WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that cities and towns generally cannot limit roadside signs based on what they say.
The justices unanimously said the town of Gilbert, Ariz., violated the First Amendment by giving signs promoting a church’s worship services vastly inferior treatment compared to political campaign signs.
Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the town law limiting the size of the church’s signs and the length of time for which they could be displayed was a “content-based” restriction on the church’s speech. He said the town had no justification for such a restriction, and it was therefore unconstitutional.
The case was touted by lawyers for Good News Community Church as a major test of religious freedom, but the justices didn’t treat it that way. Rather, they said local governments must be able to justify the disparate treatment accorded organizations seeking to spread their messages….