Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Church's Sign Law Suit

      (CN) - The 9th Circuit upheld the dismissal of a Christian church's challenge to a Phoenix suburb's sign ordinance that limited when the congregation could advertise its services on public roads. But the circuit also sent the case back to the lower court to consider whether the code "impermissibly discriminates among certain forms of noncommercial speech."
     The Good News Community Church tried to stop enforcement of the sign code in the Town of Gilbert, alleging the sign code violated its right to free speech and equal protection.
     The district court refused to issue the injunction, and found that the code was "a content-neutral regulation ... that passes the applicable intermediate level of scrutiny" and that it did not "favor commercial speech over noncommercial speech."
     Good News appealed, but the San Francisco-based panel agreed with the district court to a degree.
      "Because (the sign code) is a content-neutral regulation that passes muster and because it does not impermissibly favor commercial speech over noncommercial speech, we affirm the denial of a preliminary injunction on those First Amendment and Equal Protection claims," Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for the three-judge panel.
     But the panel also sent the case back to the district court "to consider the First Amendment and Equal Protection claims that the sign code is unconstitutional in favoring some noncommercial speech over other noncommercial speech."
     McKeown added: "although ideological signs, political signs and qualifying event signs are all exempted from the sign code's permit requirement, and treated favorably under the code in that respect, each category faces different restrictions and requirements.
     "The district court carefully analyzed the other First Amendment challenges, but did not address whether Good News is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim that (the code) impermissibly discriminates among certain forms of noncommercial speech."