significant government interest

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

A tattered campaign sign on a D.C. lamppost. Source: Washington Times.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined that Washington, D.C.’s regulation of event-based signage on public lampposts is not content based.  On its face, the court’s decision appears to conflict with one of the central holdings of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  But the lengthy, well-written opinion made significant efforts to distinguish the case from Reed, and the D.C. Circuit’s decision potentially offers new avenues for local governments to control proliferations of signage.

Washington, D.C. has long regulated signage on public lampposts.
Continue Reading In Apparent Departure From Reed, D.C. Circuit Says Event-Related Sign Restrictions Are Not Content-Based

A photo of the “Temple Burn” engaged in by Catharsis on the Mall in 2015. Source: catharsisonthemall.com.

Last month, the federal district court in Washington, D.C. denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service’s enforcement of its bonfire restrictions on the National Mall.  A group sought to host a demonstration on the Mall that would have attracted more than 4,000 participants and involved the burning of a wooden “Temple” as a symbol of support for additional protections and services for veterans.  The National Park Service denied the group’s request for a permit based on newly-enacted rules regarding bonfires on the Mall, which limited the size of bonfires for safety purposes.  Prior regulations allowed bonfires with a National Park Service permit. 
Continue Reading No Preliminary Injunction in National Mall Bonfire Case

The Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. Source: Vegas Experience.

Fremont Street in Las Vegas is one of the city’s major tourist attractions.  It is operated and managed by a private concessionaire, Fremont Street Experience, LLC.  The city government regulates street performances on Fremont Street, controlling the areas in which street performances take place, limiting noise made by street performers, designating times in which street performances are allowed, establishing a lottery system to allocate times and locations among street performers (25 to 38 performers, depending on the time of the day), and requiring that street performers obtain a city license.  In a prior case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Fremont Street to be a traditional public forum.


Continue Reading Court Denies Preliminary Injunction in Las Vegas Mall Case

Late last month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision finding that a New Hampshire law prohibiting digital photography of completed election ballots violated the First Amendment.  In the case of Rideout v. Gardner, the court found that the law was not narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest, and therefore failed intermediate scrutiny review.

The New Hampshire law in question was commonly referred to as the “ballot selfie” law, since it prohibited individuals from taking cell phone photographs of themselves with their completed ballots.  The law was a 21st century update of an earlier state law dating back to the late 1800s
Continue Reading First Circuit Rejects New Hampshire “Ballot Selfie” Law

A digital billboard in New Jersey. Source: nj.com.

In a surprising decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court found earlier this month that a township ordinance prohibiting digital billboards violated the free speech provisions of the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions.

Franklin Township, New Jersey, a suburban community in Somerset County, enacted sign regulations that allowed billboards in zoning districts near interstate highways.  The regulations prohibited digital billboards.  The township justified its regulations on the basis of traffic safety and aesthetics.  Various township bodies suggested that the ban on digital billboards was enacted because the township did not have sufficient information on the safety of digital billboards in order to craft appropriate regulations.  Because state law imposes dispersal requirements on billboards, it was established that the township could have just three static billboards and just one digital billboard.

In 2009, E&J Equities sought a variance to allow the placement of a digital billboard in the township.  Because digital billboards were not allowed, the request was brought before the township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The ZBA did not approve the application.

Thereafter, E&J brought an action against the township in state trial court.  The trial court found that the township failed to meet intermediate scrutiny
Continue Reading New Jersey Supreme Court: Digital Billboard Ban Unconstitutional