Interesting Law and Religion Case Before the Supreme Court Next Week

The Supreme Court’s January calendar begins next week with argument in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, a law and religion case that has gotten very little attention. The case relates to some of the issues that Mark Movsesian and Perry Dane have been talking about involving the New York City subway regulations concerning advertising. I found Perry’s phrase, “mental maps,” to be useful in thinking through the categories that we use to divide up both meanings and the motivations for expressing certain meanings. This case tests our mental maps.

It seems that the Town of Gilbert has a complex set of regulations governing the display of signs. It categorizes signs into five groups: political signs, ideological signs, “qualifying event” signs, homeowners’ association temporary signs, and real estate signs. Different rules regarding the size, duration, and location of the sign (among other variables) apply depending on the category of sign that one wishes to display.

The petitioners in the case are representatives of the Good News Community Church, a small Christian church that “holds services on Sundays, where attendees worship and fellowship together, learn biblical lessons, sing religious songs, pray for their community, and encourage others whenever possible.” Good News depends on signs to advertise its presence and invite people to join.

The Town has classified Good News as the sort of organization entitled to “qualifying event signs.” A “qualifying event sign” is a “temporary sign intended to direct pedestrians, motorists, and other passersby to a ‘qualifying event.’ A ‘qualifying event’ is any assembly, gathering, activity, or meeting sponsored, arranged, or promoted by a religious, charitable, community service, educational, or other similar non-profit organization.”

By contrast, a “political sign” is a “temporary sign which supports candidates for office or urges action on any other matter on the ballot of primary, general and special elections relating to any national, state or local election.”

And an “ideological sign” is a “sign communicating a message or ideas for non- commercial purposes that is not a Construction Sign, Directional Sign, Temporary Directional Sign Relating to a Qualifying Event, Political Sign, Garage Sale Sign, or a sign owned or required by a governmental agency.”

The petitioners’ basic complaint is that by lumping the Church in with organizations entitled only to a “qualifying event” sign, the Town is engaging in viewpoint discrimination against it, because it is only entitled to a tiny sign of very limited duration that can only be displayed in limited locations. The Town’s justification for this highly reticulated set of requirements and classifications? “Safety and aesthetics.” Also of interest is that at some point in the procedural history (which looks rather involved), the Town amended certain locational requirements for “qualifying events signs,” replacing them with a requirement that “qualifying events signs” must “relate to events in the Town of Gilbert.” That requirement does not apply to political or ideological signs. The Church claims that this amendment was made specifically to target it for unfavorable treatment.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the argument goes. Here is an interesting contrast contained in the Petitioners’ Brief:

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Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

“Religion and the Marketplace in the United States” (Stievermann et al., eds.)

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Religion and the Marketplace in the United States”  edited by Jan Stievermann (Heidelberg University), Philip Goff (Indiana University Indianapolis), Detlef Junker (Heidelberg University), with Anthony Santoro (Heidelberg University), and Daniel Silliman (Heidelberg University). The publisher’s description follows:

Alexis de Tocqueville once described the national character of Americans as one question insistently asked: “How much money will it bring in?” G.K. Chesterton, a century later, described America as a “nation with a soul of a church.” At first glance, the two observations might appear to be diametrically opposed, but this volume shows the ways in which American religion and American business overlap and interact with one another, defining the US in terms of religion, and religion in terms of economics.

Bringing together original contributions by leading experts and rising scholars from both America and Europe, the volume pushes this field of study forward by examining the ways religions and markets in relationship can provide powerful insights and open unseen aspects into both. In essays ranging from colonial American mercantilism to modern megachurches, from literary markets to popular festivals, the authors explore how religious behavior is shaped by commerce, and how commercial practices are informed by religion. By focusing on what historians often use off-handedly as a metaphor or analogy, the volume offers new insights into three varieties of relationships: religion and the marketplace, religion in the marketplace, and religion as the marketplace. Using these categories, the contributors test the assumptions scholars have come to hold, and offer deeper insights into religion and the marketplace in America.

“Non-State Justice Institutions and the Law: Decision-Making at the Interface of Tradition, Religion and the State” (Kötter et al., eds.)

In February, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Non-State Justice Institutions and the Law: Decision-Making at the Interface of Tradition, Religion and the State”  edited by Matthias Kötter (WZB Berlin Social Science Center), Tilmann Röder (Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law, Heidelberg, Germany), Folke Schuppert (WZB Berlin Social Science Center) and Rüdiger Wolfrum (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea). The publisher’s description follows:

Traditional forms of dispute resolution have become an important aspect in the political and academic debates on law and development and in numerous cases of constitution-making and judicial reform. This book focuses on decision-making by non-state justice institutions at the interface of traditional, religious, and state laws. The authors discuss the implications of non-state justice for the rule of law, presenting case studies on traditional councils and courts in Pakistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Bolivia and South Africa. Looking at the legitimacy of non-state justice from various angles, this collection explores the ways in which non-state legal systems and governmental structures are embedded in official state justice institutions and how this affects the protection of human rights.