Thursday, August 18

Ruling on Church Signs and Banners Affecting Anti-Panhandling Legislation Across the Country

Cross silhouette and the holy blue skyA recent Supreme Court ruling on church signs in Gilbert, AZ, is having unintended consequences across the nation. The ruling even had an effect in nearby Colorado, which is one state facing increased legal difficulties over efforts to reduce panhandling in downtown and tourist areas, according to the business news source BusinessInsider.com.

At least three separate judges in different states have cited the high court’s ruling from this past June as precedent to overturn, or send back for lower court review, anti-panhandling laws. Except, the case these judges are citing had nothing to do with panhandling or asking for money at all.

The case the Supreme Court ruled on in June had to do with the size of church signs and something known as content discrimination. The judges ruled that the town of Gilbert did not have the right to limit the size of signs put up to direct worshipers to services at a small church because the town didn’t set the same limits for real estate or political signs.

The law also didn’t apply to any outdoor advertising, which also made the initial decision unconstitutional. Around 37% of consumers report looking at an outdoor advertisement all or most times they pass one, according to one survey.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups have since started using this decision to fight against laws that discriminate against people trying to panhandle or ask for money.

On Sept. 30, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello ruled that a Grand Junction, CO, law prohibiting people from asking for money after dark and near bus stops and restaurants was unconstitutional because it singled out a specific kind of speech, in this case asking for money, without a compelling reason.

Other Colorado cities, such as Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Longmont, quickly did away with many aspects of similar legislation they had on the books.

“The government can’t pass a law to ban all speech that’s annoying or irritating,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

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