the small little Louisiana town of Franklinton, civil libertarians
won a battle over public religious displays.
However, fighting back and feeling victorious too are its residents.
lawns and storefronts around the town of 4,000 are more than 1,000
signs proclaiming that “God Is Lord Over All.”
To people from surrounding
towns, a local sign maker has sold about 2,800 more. And in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, a traveling salesman
has started selling them.
The Louisiana branch
of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Franklinton and
forced town officials to remove four signs from public property that
said, “ Jesus Is Lord Over Franklinton.”
Now the community has responded with the signs.
In the front yards
residents responded by posting similar signs.
It is difficult not to find a yard that doesn’t have a light
blue sign with the Christian proclamation in white lettering in many
Gene Richards, pastor
of Hill Crest Baptist Church said, “There was sort of an outcry from
the Christian community. It
seems the ACLU is trying to de-Christianize the community.”
They are merely defending
the Constitution yet that is untrue say ACLU officials.
Demanding the removal
of the sign leading into town, a federal lawsuit was filed on January
29, 2002 by the civil liberties group.
Saying that public
money was used to create the signs-which violate the constitutional
separation of church and state-ACLU officials named Washington Parish
and the town officials in their complaints.
Residents paid for
the signs but the parish road crew put up the signs acknowledged Parish
President M.E. Taylor.
When New Orleans
resident Linton Carney first saw the signs in July while driving through
Franklinton, which is 55 miles north of New Orleans near the Mississippi
state line, he was offended and joined the ACLU as a plaintiff.
Carney said at the time the suit was filed, “I was so upset
to see such a sign that makes non-Christians unwelcome in Franklinton. Can you imagine the hostility that Jews, Muslims,
members of the other minority faiths and non-believers must feel when
living in or passing through that community?”
Madonna Fowler, 54,
a retired Franklinton teacher said the idea to put signs on private
property came independently to pastors and a group of residents organizing
their annual parish fair as word about the lawsuit spread.
In their yards homeowners
have put them. Inside car
windows some put them. In
front of Radio Shack, Crown Auto Sales and Winston Refrigeration business
owners have posted them.
Scott Blair, owner
of All Star Graphics, which makes $3 and $5 signs said, “Now they’re
in every town in Washington Parish.”
Also, across the
Mississippi River in Picayune, Mississippi they have shown up.
Selling them across
the southeast, is Lamar Bryant, a traveling salesman from nearby Bogalusa
who bought 1,000 signs.
He is satisfied that
his suit removed religious content from public property said Joe Cook,
executive director of the Louisiana ACLU.
He said, “If [the signs] are on private property and people
want to make a statement, then that’s freedom of expression.
Let the words fly.” However,
Franklinton residents are wrong to think of the ACLU as anti-Christian
said Cook. He said, “I think
they missed the point. To
suggest that the ACLU is anti-religious…is totally untrue.”
However, many residents
of this mainly Protestant town are stung by the lawsuit. Miss Fowler said, “Most people were a little angry at the ACLU.
This is a small, basically Christian town and we just strongly
believe that Jesus is Lord over all.” In a string of suits over public Christian
display Mr. Richards said the ACLU lawsuit was the latest. Over nativity scenes on public property, nearby
towns have been hit with legal battles.
Mr. Richard said, “These are types of displays of Christian
faith that hade been accepted, even expected, and now we’re being
told they’re illegal. These
signs originally were a declaration of the faith of a large majority
of people in Franklinton. They were never intended to be offensive or
to discriminate against anyone.”
(Doug Simpson, “Thumbing
noses at civil libertarians, The Associated Press, March 2, 2002.)
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