Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a municipal sign code that restricts posting based on purpose is either content-based or content-neutral and, if content-based, whether the code survives strict scrutiny.


The Supreme Court held that code violated the First Amendment and reversed the Ninth Circuit.


A local church without a permanent location often advertised its temporary meeting locations. The church’s signs were subject to a set of provisions in the local code that differed from others because of the sign’s purpose as a temporary sign. The church was notified that it had violated the sign provisions and subsequently sued the town.

Importance of Case

The Court expanded the content discrimination principle and said a law can be content-based even if it was not passed for a discriminatory purpose. The Supreme Court stated: “Whether laws define regulated speech by particular subject matter or by its function or purpose, they are subject to strict scrutiny. The same is true for laws that, though facially content-neutral, cannot be ‘justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech,’ or were adopted by the government ‘because of disagreement with the message’ conveyed.” The Court held that the ordinance did not survive strict scrutiny.

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