NH town reverses course, votes to allow electronic sign with Bible verses
“City zoning officials shouldn’t prohibit street signs of Christian organizations just because the message displayed happens to communicate something religious that might get attention,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “Town officials have made the right decision in avoiding a violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law and averting needless litigation.”
In July 2010, the Chichester Planning Board denied plans by Signs for Jesus to display an electronic sign measuring approximately six by four feet in place of a similarly sized sign left by a woodworking business, which sold the property to the Christian nonprofit in 2009. Opponents originally objected because the sign might contain “objectionable” Bible verses. One board member argued that the sign would communicate a message that would distract drivers more than commercial signs, which “just inform drivers about the price of gas.”
“Town officials simply didn’t have the constitutional authority to single out religious content based on concerns over how passing motorists might react,” Infranco explained.
Planning officials originally denied the application for the sign, but were unanimously overruled by the zoning board of appeals after numerous appeals. Nonetheless, the planning board voted 4-3 to deny the site plan approval in February, citing concerns that drivers would try to read the sign’s messages at a busy intersection and create a traffic hazard.
The lawsuit brought against town officials argued that the denial violates the First Amendment and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act, which prohibits the government from singling out nonprofit religious organizations for discrimination in zoning matters.
“Signs for Jesus is excited to finally have official approval to build its sign and share a biblical message,” said Michael J. Tierney of Manchester, one of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance. He is serving as counsel in the suit, Signs for Jesus v. Town of Chichester, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
- Pronunciation guide: Tierney (TEER’-nee)