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Supreme Court will hear church's appeal over Arizona town's restrictions on sign placement

GILBERT, Ariz. - The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will decide whether an Arizona town violates the First Amendment by restricting where and when a church can place signs advertising Sunday morning services.

The justices will hear arguments this fall on an appeal from the Good News Community Church, which has argued that the town of Gilbert applies stricter rules to church signs than to other types of non-commercial signs.

Town officials say church signs must be 6-feet square and can be displayed in public areas only 14 hours before each event. Opponents note that political or ideological signs can be larger and remain standing for months.

Under Gilbert's ordinance, political signs can be up to 32 square feet and an ideological sign can be up to 20 square feet and both can be unlimited in number. The church's signs are limited to four per property.

"Towns cannot apply stricter rules to church signs when it doesn't apply them to ideological, political, and other non-commercial signs," said David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law group that is representing the Good News Community Church and filed a brief with the Supreme Court in March.

A federal court in Arizona ruled the town code was allowed to have different rules for various categories of non-commercial speech, as long as they were not based on the content of the speech.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling last year in a 2-1 decision, saying the sign code "is constitutional because the different treatment of types of noncommercial temporary signs are not content-based" and "the restrictions are tailored to serve significant governmental interests."

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