Church Sign Case Goes to Supreme Court

One of the cases headed to the Supreme Court right now doesn’t have to do with any controversial issues or civil injustices. It’s about signs. According to the Huffington Post, Reed v. Gilbert is the case of one man, Pastor Clyde Reed, against the town of Gilbert, AZ.

The case stems from the arguably unfair zoning regulations that have been put into place by the the town of Gilbert, which prohibits “non-commercial event signs” from being erected or displayed beyond 12 hours before the event through one hour after it’s over.

Pastor Reed runs Good News Community Church and rents temporary spaces to hold worship services in. This means that services are held in a number of different places, and Pastor Reed uses signs to notify congregants of where the services are going to be held.

The problem is that other types of signs do not fall under the same restrictions that Pastor Reed’s do — including government-owned signs, village-sponsored signs, signs for national holidays, or even elections (which can be displayed up to 60 days before an election).

A similar set of restrictions is in place in Downer’s Grove, which is a suburb of Chicago, but there it’s not church services that the guidelines are disrupting — it’s a business.

Restrictions put in place in Downer’s Grove makes signs like the one painted on Leibundguth Moving and Storage Inc., which is owned by Robert Peterson, illegal. The hand-painted sign has graced the back of the building for more than 70 years, and according to Peterson, the sign brings in 12 to 15 customers per month — which amounts to between $40,000 and $60,000 in revenue every year.

Peterson has the choice to either remove the sign or face a fine of $50 to $750 per day.

“Some of the challenges that business owners face are in regards to municipalities; there has to be a striking of a balance between businesses trying to communicate to their customers and a city’s right to regulate signage in such a way that maintains the look and feel of what the community is looking for,” explains Bill Hayes, CEO of Sign Dealz. “In cases such as this one, you get owners who have a 1st Amendment right to promote their business, but unfortunately many times the cities are too strict with what they want and don’t want promoted on their streets.”

Signs have long been an advertising staple and can actually account for half of one’s local customer base. Since most zoning regulations are size-restrictive, this can be problematic for businesses — like Peterson’s — that are trying to get their message to people traveling on a major route, since an inch of letter height on a sign amounts to 10 feet of viewing distance.

In some cases, a variance can be applied, allowing a business to keep the sign.

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