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Supreme Court Ruling Creates Need for Clear Guidelines in Regulating Temporary Signage




The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled on the issue of temporary signs, an often contentious and confusing issue for communities around the country. Reed v. Town of Gilbert stemmed from a dispute over temporary signage advertising a church’s location; the church argued that its signs could not be held to a different standard than other types of temporary signs, including political signs.

In siding with the church, the Supreme Court reinforced previous rulings that found that communities cannot regulate messages based on content. This applies to temporary signs as well.

“This ruling certainly offers clarity on the idea of regulation of temporary signs,” said David Hickey, vice president of government relations for the International Sign Association. “It does not provide a how-to guide by any stretch. This is an issue that communities struggle with: balancing constitutional rights and community aesthetics with business and nonprofit needs to use this type of signage.”

Hickey points to a new complimentary publication from the Signage Foundation, Inc. which can help communities navigate the various types of temporary signs, understand the value of their use and craft codes that reasonably regulate them.

“Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signage” was created by prominent planner Wendy Moeller, AICP, and offers information and techniques for overall regulation as well as sample codes based on temporary sign type. It provides a comprehensive look at the various uses for these signs, as well as tips of clarifying codes to help users understand when a permit is needed. It includes specific best practices for a number of different kinds of temporary signs, ranging from advertising murals to people signs. It also includes a discussion on content neutrality—ensuring that signs are not regulated based on the content of the message, which was the crux of the Supreme Court case.

“This guide offers reasonable, balanced suggestions to help communities develop temporary sign codes, an issue that only will be heightened by this Supreme Court ruling,” Hickey said. “ISA has helped hundreds of communities around the United States understand the economic value of signage to businesses and has helped them create reasonable sign codes that balance constitutional, community and business needs. We remain available to assist as needed. But this guide should serve as a solid starting point for any community looking at temporary signage.”


“Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signage” is available at To find more resources on signage for local communities, visit



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