Montana Joins Nine States in Brief to Defend Citizens’ First Amendment Rights

Attorney General Tim Fox today announced that Montana has joined West Virginia and eight other states in an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in the U.S. Supreme Court to support an Arizona church’s fight against a local sign ordinance that the church says stifles its freedoms under the First Amendment.

The brief asks 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, AZ, which places size limitations on signs placed by churches and non-profit entities, but does not impose similar restrictions on other signs, including political signs. A local church, Good News Community Church, and its pastor, Clyde Reed, filed the lawsuit against the ordinance.

“If the Supreme Court upholds the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, it would give governments, including the federal government, the authority to systematically favor speech about certain subjects over speech about other subjects,” Attorney General Fox said. “This would be a dangerous erosion of the rights that all Americans are guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

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 constitutional questions about the proper standards and level of scrutiny for laws that discriminate on the basis of the content of speech,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who was the lead author of the amicus brief. “How the U.S. Supreme 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.

To read a copy of the amicus brief, go to 1st Amendment Amicus 09-14

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