Stuck in Customs / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAStuck in Customs / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Running for office? You can post a 32-square-foot sign on public rights-of-way. Holding a religious service? You too can post a sign, and in the same place, but it better not be bigger than six square feet.

A federal appeals court ruled last week that Gilbert, Arizona's separate rules for “political,” “ideological,” and other signs do not amount to content-based distinctions. First Amendment jurisprudence forbids such distinctions (unless the sign contains commercial content).

From Courthouse News:

     In a seven-page dissent, Judge Watford said … "Gilbert's sign ordinance plainly favors certain categories of non-commercial speech (political and ideological signs) over others (signs promoting events sponsored by non-profit organizations) based solely on the content of the message being conveyed." (Parentheses in original.)
     Watford said Gilbert's interests in traffic safety and aesthetics do not justify the difference.
     "To sustain the distinctions it has drawn, Gilbert must explain why (for example) a 20-square-foot sign displayed indefinitely at a particular location poses an acceptable threat to traffic safety and aesthetics if it bears an ideological message, but would pose an unacceptable threat if the sign's message instead invited people to attend Sunday church services," the dissent states.
     "Gilbert has not offered any such explanation, and I doubt it could come up with one if it tried," Watford added.

In 2008, a church that met in a school sued the Phoenix suburb because the town’s sign code, in addition to imposing size restrictions, limits the hours it can post signs to 12 hours before and one hour after services. Since worship starts at 9 a.m., Good News Community Church’s signs were pretty much always in the dark.

Gilbert's sign code allows campaigns to post “political” signs of up to 32 square feet. Such signs don’t have to be removed for 10 days after an election. “Ideological” signs that communicate “a message or ideas for non-commercial purposes” may be up to 20 square feet and can stay up indefinitely.

Click here and here for more Reason coverage of insufficient reverence for the First Amendment in local sign codes.