The Cape Elizabeth Ordinance Committee was scheduled this week to talk about changes to the town’s signage rules. But prior to the July 12 meeting, Town Manager Mike McGovern said Cape needs to review any content-based restrictions on signage because of the ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

The Ordinance Committee will review the sign ordinance “for non-compliance with the decision and will report back to the council with recommended changes,” he said. Before the council makes any final decisions, a public hearing and further council deliberations will be held, he said.

The Gilbert case came to the Supreme Court in 2015 after the town of Gilbert, Ariz., created a sign ordinance that imposed stricter limitations on signs advertising religious services than signs that displayed political or ideological messages.

When the town cited a local church for violating the ordinance, the church filed a lawsuit, arguing that Gilbert’s rules on signs violated its first amendment rights to free speech.

The Supreme Court agreed and said that any content-based restrictions for signs must be “narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest,” such as public safety.

Cape is not the only community dealing with the repercussions of the court case, McGovern said.

“If you Google Gilbert sign ordinance and then hit the news tab, you will see many communities are dealing with this issue,” he said.

Whatever changes the council may decide are needed in Cape’s sign ordinance could have an impact on the November election cycle.

– Kate Irish Collins

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