Proclaiming Their Faith Despite What the ACLU May Do

In 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.

Currently, covering 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 neighborhoods.

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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