Regulations for Church Signs Don’t Violate First Amendment

Alabama law limits signs for all businesses, not just churches.

Church Law and Tax 1996-07-01

Church Property

Key point: A state law limiting the size of church signs does not necessarily violate a church’s constitutional right of religious freedom.

An Alabama court rejected a church’s argument that a state law prohibiting it from erecting a sign larger than 8 square feet without a special permit violated its constitutional rights. The Alabama Highway Beautification Act prohibits the erection of signs along a “primary highway” that do not meet certain requirements pertaining to size, location, lighting, and spacing. Among other things, a church sign cannot exceed 8 square feet unless a special permit is issued. A church erected a sign on the property of a private business that was located on a state highway. The sign gave the name of the church, an arrow indicating where motorists should turn to find the church, and three crosses. The state department of transportation ordered the church to remove the sign on the ground that it exceeded 8 square feet. The church protested, claiming that removal of the sign would violate its constitutional right of religious freedom. A state appeals court rejected the church’s argument, and upheld the removal of the sign. The court noted that the Highway Beautification Act “makes no reference to the content of the sign. It merely regulates the manner in which churches may display signs … by limiting their signs to no more than 8 square feet in area. The [Act] does not attempt to regulate the views of the various churches. It simply regulates the size of the signs.” Corinth Baptist Church v. State Department of Transportation, 656 So.2d 868 (Ala. App. 1995). [ Zoning Law and Churches]

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