While the Rocky Mountain Sign Blog is geared toward issues that involve free speech and land use law, we geek out about any Supreme Court case that addresses First Amendment issues, even those outside of our weird little land use world. Yesterday, our appetite
The Catholic Church’s efforts to “Keep Christ in Christmas” have been stymied by a District of Columbia judge this holiday season. Earlier this month, the federal district court in Washington rejected a request by the Archdiocese of Washington to enjoin the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s enforcement of its transit advertising policy. The Archdiocese wished to display, during the holiday season, an advertisement on WMATA transit vehicles that contained the language “Find the Perfect Gift” and a religious image. The advertisement was intended to encourage readers to remember the religious underpinnings of Christmas. WMATA rejected the advertisement because it violated the authority’s rule prohibiting advertising that advocates or opposes religion.
Continue Reading Reason for the Season? D.C. Court Upholds Transit Authority’s Rejection of Religious Holiday Advertising
In this most recent installment of the long-running (and long-vexing) series, “Crèches, Crosses and the Constitution,” a Fourth Circuit majority held that a 40-foot-tall Latin cross situated in the middle of a public intersection, and pictured at right, ran afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Erected in 1925, the cross memorialized forty-nine soldiers from Prince George’s County, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., who died in World War I. After standing for the better part of a century, it drew the ire of several area residents and the American Humanist Association, all of whom believed such a prominent display, located on public property and maintained with public dollars, unconstitutionally advanced Christianity. The district court concluded otherwise, granting summary judgment in favor of the government, and this appeal to the Fourth Circuit followed.
Webcast— Special Topics in Planning and the First Amendment: Signs, Adult Businesses, Religious Land Uses, and More
December 14, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EDT
CM | 1.50 | Law
CLE 1.50 through Illinois State Bar
The Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association is pleased to host the upcoming webcast Special…
We are pleased to announce the publication of a new book, Local Government, Land Use, and the First Amendment: Protecting Free Speech and Expression. The book is published by ABA Publishing, and was edited by the editor of Rocky Mountain Sign Law, Brian Connolly. Twelve authors contributed to the book, which contains chapters…
This post was originally authored by Evan J. Seeman of Robinson & Cole LLP on the RLUIPA Defense blog. We have re-posted it here with permission. The original post can be found here. Any views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, P.C.
Last year, we reported about a case in which the city of St. Michael, Minnesota utilized RLUIPA’s “safe harbor” provision to avoid liability under the act’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions. While the federal court found for the city as to Riverside Church’s RLUIPA claims at the summary judgment stage, the court concluded that there were genuine issues of fact regarding Riverside’s free speech claim that could only be resolved at trial. Following a several-week-long trial, the court late last month issued its decision and found that the city’s zoning ordinance violated Riverside’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and awarded Riverside $1,354,595 in damages.
Riverside identified property in the city’s B-1 district as an ideal satellite location to accommodate its growing congregation. Riverside would use the new location much like a movie theater, where it would broadcast religious worship services being held at its primary church in Big Lake, Minnesota. The property was already suited for Riverside’s intended use, since it had previously been operated as a 15-screen movie theatre, with nearly 2,800 seats, a maximum capacity of over 3,600 people, and having more than 91,000 square feet. Although Riverside sought to use the property in much the same way as a movie theatre – an allowed use under the zoning code for this B-1 district – the city concluded that the proposed use was not allowed since “collective religious worship” was not among the uses permitted in this district.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Church Wins Free Speech Claim Over Zoning Ordinance and $1,354,595 in Damages
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…
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
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
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