In January, Gilbert, Arizona couple Pastor Clyde and Ann Reed listened while the Supreme Court discussed their small church and their equally small signs that invite people to come and enjoy Sunday morning services.
"I never dreamed my small church signs would be a topic for the Supreme Court…" said Pastor Reed following the oral arguments. "This whole experience has been shocking to me—our signs inviting people to church are very important yet are treated as second-class speech. We aren't asking for special treatment; we just want our town to stop favoring the speech of others over ours."
After today's Supreme Court decision, equal treatment is exactly what Pastor Reed can expect going forward.
The Court issued a unanimous victory for Pastor Reed, finding that the Town of Gilbert's sign code is content-based discrimination and does not survive strict scrutiny. The town tried to justify its restrictions on the size, location, duration, and number of Pastor Reed's signs on the basis of aesthetics and safety, but this argument failed because the reasoning for the restrictions do not further a compelling government interest (find out what that means, and how it impacts you, here).
After all, how can a 32-square-foot sign look aesthetically better and pose less of a danger to traffic safety if it has a political message versus a religious message?
"The Supreme Court has a long history of ensuring that the government treats all speech in a content-neutral manner," explained Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman who argued on behalf of the Reed's. "Speech discrimination is wrong regardless of whether the government intended to violate the First Amendment of not, and it doesn't matter if the government thinks its discrimination was well-intended. It's still government playing favorites, and that's unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court today found."
This is great news for the 82-year-old pastor of Good News Presbyterian Church, who will no longer have to put up his signs in the dark of night on Saturday and rush to take them down right after the services on Sunday. Before the ruling, he risked facing fines and jail time if his signs were left up for longer than 12 hours.
And while these small church signs might not seem like a big deal, this ruling is a decisive win for free speech.
A government that has the power to pick and choose which speech to allow and which to censor is a threat to all people who cherish freedom. The Supreme Court victory for Clyde and Ann Reed reiterates that the government cannot play favorites when it comes to speech—whether it agrees with it or not.
As a nation, we must remain vigilant in standing firm to defend our freedoms, and like Pastor Reed, be willing to speak up when the government crosses the line. Alliance Defending Freedom is working on behalf of people like Pastor Reed throughout the U.S. to ensure that these violations do not go unchallenged.
- Please share the Reed's story on social media as a reminder that there is no sign too small when it comes to freedom!
- See the big picture of this case, how it could impact you, and how you can show your support for the Reeds, by visiting our page.
- If you believe your constitutional rights are being threatened, you can contact Alliance Defending Freedom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-835-5233.