This weekend (May 6th-9th, 2017) brings us to the American Planning American’s National Conference in New York City.  Along with colleagues from around the country, we’ll be talking about everything land use and the First Amendment, from signs to adult businesses, religious land uses, and the public forum doctrine.  If you’re planning to be at the conference, please join us for the following panel presentations:

  • On Monday, May 8 at 4:15 p.m. ET, Brian Connolly will join Evan Seeman of Robinson & Cole and Noel Sterrett of Mauck & Baker in a presentation entitled “Planning and Zoning for First Amendment-Protected Land Uses,” which focus on sign regulation, regulation of religious land uses, and adult business regulation, among other interesting topics.  The speakers recently co-wrote an article that appeared in the newsletter of the American Planning Association’s Planning & Law Division on these topics, which can be found here.
  • On Tuesday, May 9 at 7:45 a.m. ET, Brian Connolly and Alan Weinstein, professor of planning and law at Cleveland State University, will present on “Planners and the Public Realm: Legal Rights and Planning Issues,” which will dive more deeply into the public forum doctrine and the opportunities and constitutional limitations associated with planning for public spaces.

We look forward to seeing many of our friends and readers in New York!

This post was originally authored by Evan Seeman and Karla Chafee of Robinson + Cole, LLP.  Any views reflected in this post are the views of the original authors. 

hillside-sign

Thou shall have the right to an electronic sign?  Apparently not.  Just over a year ago, Hillside Baptist Church and Signs for Jesus (together, Plaintiffs or Church) filed a complaint in the District Court for New Hampshire, seeking a declaration that the Town of Pembroke’s (the Town) sign ordinance is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to the Plaintiffs.  The complaint alleged that the Town’s Ordinance banning the use of electronic signs in all but the Town’s commercial zoning district “restricts how the Church may proclaim a daily Biblical message while not restricting the medium of communicating state, municipal or school messages.”  Our post regarding the complaint is available here.

The Plaintiffs claimed that the Town’s limitation on electronic signs in all zones but the commercial zone, and the Town’s denial of the Church’s sign application violated its rights to Free Speech, Free Exercise of Religion, and Equal Protection, as well as RLUIPA’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions. Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Signs 4 JC Shown the Light by NH District Court

This post was originally authored by Evan Seeman, Karla Chafee, Dwight Merriam, and John Peloso of Robinson + Cole, LLP.  Any views reflected in this post are the views of the original authors. 

The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Adjustment abused its discretion in failing to grant a variance to Antioch Community Church (Church) to install digital components into its monument sign.  The Church argued that absent the variance it had practical difficulty in communicating its message.  In the alternative, the Church contended that the zoning code violated the First Amendment “by favoring less-protected commercial speech over more-protected non-commercial speech.”  Under the code, schools and churches on lots 15 acres or more (or 10 acres or more if located on a major arterial road) are allowed to use digital signs.  Because the Church’s lot was less than 10 acres, the code prohibited it from having a digital sign on its property.

The Church property is in a single-family residence zone next to commercial, urban residential, downtown, and industrial zones, all of which permit digital signs.  The Church is located on Antioch Road, a four-land roadway with about 14,000 travelers each day.  Since 1956, the Church has had a monument sign consisting of glass display cases surrounded by brick framework.  The sign included messages and information about Church activities that were manually  added using letters hung from cup hooks.  In 2010, at a cost of $11,000, the Church installed a digital sign, which replaced the display case, but no changes were made to the brick surround.  At this time, the Church was unaware that the Kansas City sign ordinance prohibited digital signs in residential zones (Section 88-445-06-A-4 of the code).  Accordingly, the Church did not seek a variance before installing the digital sign component. Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Missouri Church Wins Digital Sign Appeal

An aerial view of the Grand Haven cross. Source: Grand Haven Tribune.

Late last month, in an unpublished opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that a monument commemorating those who served and died in the Vietnam War, located on land owned by the City of Grand Haven, was government speech and not subject to First Amendment limitations.  The monument, placed on a sand dune along the Grand River, contains a lifting mechanism that allows the monument to display a cross or, when certain attachments are included on the monument, an anchor.  When members of the community requested that the monument be lifted to display the cross, the city would raise the lifting mechanism.

In 2015, the city passed a resolution allowing the monument to display only the anchor, not the cross.  Members of a local church challenged the resolution as violating the free speech and equal protection provisions of the Michigan Constitution.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the city on the grounds that the monument was government speech. Continue Reading Michigan Court of Appeals: Cross/Anchor Monument is Government Speech

The controversial church sign in Shickshinny. Source: citizensvoice.com.

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals entered an order upholding the district court’s decision in the case of Tearpock-Martini v. Shickshinny Borough, which we reported on last summer.  The case involved an Establishment Clause challenge by a citizen to a Pennsylvania borough’s decision to install a sign in the right-of-way stating “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!”  The district court found, on a motion for summary judgment, that the sign did not violate either the three-part Lemon test under the Establishment Clause, and that it did not violate the endorsement of religion test.

The Third Circuit found the plaintiff’s arguments regarding the posting of other signs in the right-of-way unconvincing.  The plaintiff made much of the fact that the only other sign in borough right-of-way was a directional sign to a boat launch, and that the borough had not permitted a post office sign in the right-of-way.  But the Third Circuit noted that the post office never applied for a sign in the right-of-way, and further pointed out that the borough’s approval and subsequent installation of the church sign did not send a message of endorsement.

Tearpock-Martini v. Shickshinny Borough, ___ Fed. App’x ___, 2017 WL 35714 (3d Cir. Jan. 4, 2017).

One of the images that FFRF wished to display in the Texas capitol. Source: New York Post.

Late last month, a federal court in Texas denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the State of Texas in a case challenging the state’s policy for allowing privately-sponsored displays in the state capitol building.

The Texas State Preservation Board allows private individuals and groups to display exhibits “for a public purpose” in the public areas of the Texas state capitol building, subject to the board’s approval.  A private group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for separation of church and state, wished to display an exhibit in December 2015 depicting life-size figures celebrating the birth of the Bill of Rights, along with Continue Reading Exhibits in Texas State Capitol Do Not Constitute Government Speech, Viewpoint Discrimination Claim Moves Forward

The Ten Commandments monument outside of Bloomfield’s city hall. Source: wildhunt.org.

Earlier this month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bloomfield, New Mexico’s installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn in front of city hall violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In 2007, upon request of one of its members, the Bloomfield city council approved the placement of the privately-donated monument.  At the time, the city lacked a policy regarding placement of permanent monuments, but it enacted one three months later.  The city’s policy required a statement to be placed on privately-donated stating that the speech was not that of the city but rather of the donor, and also required that such monuments relate to the city’s history and heritage.  After several years of fundraising and another city council approval, the 3,400 pound Ten Commandments monument was placed on the city hall lawn in 2011, and the city held a ceremony—replete with statements by elected officials and religious leaders—to dedicate the monument.  Over the course of the next two years, the city amended the monument policy, and allowed the installation of other monuments on the lawn, including monuments containing the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Bill of Rights, but did not advertise its policy of allowing donated monuments.

The federal district court held Continue Reading Installation of Ten Commandments On City Hall Lawn is Government Speech, Violates First Amendment

A member of the street ministry of the Seminole Baptist Church, the plaintiff in the case. Source: Seminole Baptist Church
A member of the street ministry of the Seminole Baptist Church, the plaintiff in the case. Source: Seminole Baptist Church

The plaintiff in Williamson v. City of Foley was a Baptist pastor whose congregation periodically engaged in evangelistic street ministry by preaching and witnessing orally and with signs on public sidewalks at the intersection of two major highways. Continue Reading Evidence of Less-Restrictive Alternatives Do Not (Necessarily) Violate the Narrow Tailoring Requirement