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Court: Gospel message stays on NY public highway

Ruling keeps NYDOT from forcibly removing trailer cited as "public nuisance" for donning Christian message

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A Christian man represented by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys received a favorable ruling against the New York Department of Transportation in federal court Thursday, keeping it from forcibly removing a trailer bearing a gospel message on Daniel Burritt's private business property along a public highway.

"Christians shouldn't be singled out and penalized for sharing their beliefs," said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman.  "We are pleased the court recognizes that displaying a religious message on private property has always been protected under the First Amendment." 

Bowman added that the state violated the constitution by treating religion less favorably than business by not taking into account that a central aspect of Burritt's construction business is evangelism.

In August 2007, Burritt placed a tractor trailer—where he stores supplies for his company, Acts II Construction, Inc.,—on his private business property along U.S. Route 11.  The trailer displays a gospel message to each direction of highway traffic.  The trailer is one of many ways in which Burritt uses his business to evangelize.  He was cited that year by Gouverneur town officials over the message, but the charges were dropped after interaction with ADF attorneys.  Burritt then received a letter in May 2008 from the New York State Department of Transportation stating his trailer was in violation of state law and would be declared a "public nuisance."  NYDOT asserted that the trailer requires a permit and must be removed or face forcible removal and legal action.  NYDOT does not require permits for commercial messages similarly displayed.

ADF attorneys filed suit on Burritt's behalf in June and reached an agreement with NYDOT to let the trailer stay until this decision could be reached.  The court issued a preliminary injunction Thursday preventing NYDOT from removing the trailer sign while the rest of the case is litigated, and denied the state's motion to dismiss the case.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.