“What’s this argument about?”

supremecourtYesterday we posted about a current US Supreme Court case concerning a local ordinance in Gilbert, Arizona, that curtails displaying certain signs (in the case before the court, a church sign) but not others — a case that, on first glance, might seem rather uninteresting but which, if you look again, turns out to involve principles that many would see as being at the very heart of a liberal democracy.

Foremost among them is the notion of free speech — or, to rephrase, the role (if any) of government in limiting its citizen’s right to express their views freely. So, how long can a sign giving directions to a church that regularly changes locations be left up? Does the message on the sign matter when it comes to deciding that — i.e., what if it only gives directions? Or what if they give directions and “invite” people to attend? Does government even have a place adjudicating the content of speech? Is a sign directing you to a garage sale different from a sign on someone’s lawn advertizing a candidate running for public office…?

Given that the principle of unfettered expression has so passionately been advocated in Paris this past week, in the wake of the murders at the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, how could a case like this go unnoticed in the US?

Yesterday’s post anticipated the oral arguments before the court, but now we can hear how the lawyers and justices approached the issue later that day. For example, the blog for the Supreme Court posted as follows:
Picture 1Listen to the following radio coverage of the oral arguments (click here if the media player doesn’t load):

You’ll have to wait until the summer to see how the Court rules.