Morrisey, other AGs file brief in Arizona First Amendment case

By Chris Dickerson | Sep 23, 2014

CHARLESTON — West Virginia's Patrick Morrisey and attorneys general from nine other states have weighed in on an Arizona First Amendment case before the United States Supreme Court.

West Virginia and nine other states have filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief supporting an Arizona church’s fight against a local sign ordinance that the church says stifles its freedoms under the First Amendment.

The AGs ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a sign ordinance passed by the Town of Gilbert that places size limitations on signs put up by churches and non-profit entities, but does not impose similar restrictions on other signs, including political signs.

Good News Community Church and Pastor Clyde Reed filed the lawsuit against the ordinance.

“West Virginia and other states believe this is an important freedom of speech and religious liberty case that all citizens should pay attention to,” Morrisey said in a press releease. “If the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is upheld, it would give governments, including the federal government, the authority to systematically favor specific types of speech.”

The Town of Gilbert’s ordinance restricts signs promoting the events, meetings, or activities of non-profit groups, including local churches, while it broadly permits any political or ideological signs. For example, political signs can be up to 32 square feet, displayed for many months, and unlimited in number. An ideological sign can likewise be up to 20 square feet, displayed indefinitely, and unlimited in number. A church’s signs however can only be 6 square feet, may be displayed for no more than 14 hours, and are limited to four per property.

“We believe this case raises important doctrinal questions about the proper standards and level of scrutiny for laws that discriminate on the basis of the content of speech,” Morrisey said. “How the Court resolves these issues will have wide-ranging ramifications for free speech in many contexts beyond sign ordinances.”

The brief was signed by attorneys general from the states of West Virginia, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

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