Holiday Isle sign code could be unconstitutional

Maddie Rowley | 315-4353 | @maddiedestinlog |
Robyn Wehunt of Holiday Isle received a fine for posting this political sign on her property earlier this year. According to Wade Swormstedt of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry, rules that dictate what signs can be posted based on content violate the First Amendment. [FILE PHOTO]

The Holiday Isle Improvement Association’s (HIIA) signage code and regulation could be unconstitutional.

The regulation, which states that no signs are allowed on any property excluding "For Rent" or "For Sale" signs that do not exceed two feet in area and four feet high, is technically banning signs based on content.

According to Wade Swormstedt, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI), that policy violates the First Amendment.

"You can’t ban signage based on its content and what it says," said Swormstedt, who served as publisher and editor of Signs of the Times magazine for 15 years.

He started FASI in 2015 to educate people on the importance of the sign industry.

"On-premise signs are the most cost-effective form of advertising for small businesses," Swormstedt said. "The whole idea is to let people know the value of signs."

Swormstedt referenced the Reed v. Gilbert case as precedent.

On June 18, 2015, the Supreme Court unanimously issued a ruling that signage codes and regulations must be based on what the sign reads. This concept is called content neutrality.

The town of Gilbert, Arizona, passed a sign code prohibiting the display of outdoor signs without a permit, except if the signs were ideological, political, or temporary directional signs that pointed the public to a church or private event.

Pastor Clyde Reed, of Good News Community Church, posted signs pointing parishioners to various temporary locations where church was held on Sundays, and then removed the signs after church on Sunday at midday.

The church was cited for exceeding the time limit for displaying temporary directional signs and Reed sued, saying the code violated of freedom of speech. 

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the Supreme Court’s opinion on the case, saying that "the content-based regulations of speech cannot survive strict scrutiny," meaning that the town of Gilbert’s code had infringed on a fundamental right—freedom of speech.

"If a sign code says anything like ‘No political signs can be displayed on property,’ well that’s not content neutral, because the code is based on what the sign reads," Swormstedt said.

According to Swormstedt, an example of a sign code that is written correctly might state that "Temporary signs can only be up for three days." This is regulation that is not based on what the sign says, thus it’s not content-based.

Earlier this month, the town of Fort Collins, Colorado, decided to reconfigure their signage code to be in compliance with the Reed v. Gilbert ruling.

Swormstedt said that if Holiday Isle residents wanted to change the current signage code, they could use the ruling as precendent.

According to Ann Crow, administrative manager of the HIIA, no one from the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry had reached out to them regarding their signage policy.