Officials of the City of Harrisonburg, VA ordered the Valley Church of Christ to take down two pro-life signs displayed on church property within 10 days or receive ‘criminal charges’ and a fine. The charges could have resulted in as mush as a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
The city demands were supposedly initiated in response to a complaint about the signs which carried the following messages and included photos of a fetus and a baby:
“It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” -Mother Teresa
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” –Jeremiah 1:5
Fortunately the church was represented by the Rutherford Institute which persuaded the city to drop their charges and demands. Here’s a quote about the case from John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute:
“Under the First Amendment, the government has no authority to pick and choose what type of speech it approves. While we are pleased that Harrisonburg city officials were quick to set things right in this matter, this is merely one example out of a hundreds of incidents taking place across the country in which speech and expressive activities that the government perceives as controversial, politically incorrect or unpopular are criminalized, caged, censored or silenced.”
Response: Lately Churches all around the country are being bullied by local governments for a number of different reasons. Increasingly churches are considered to be a burden because of their non-profit status. It use to be that they were thought to be community assets because of all the people they helped in their ministry but no more.
The number of secular folks in government service with little personal experience with churches and religion has probably contributed to an adversarial atmosphere in this generation. This has resulted in Churches all around the country running into trouble with local governments like never before. A week does not go by without a new case rising up against a church somewhere in America.
Some cases are overt like this one but most are more subtle with churches having difficulty getting permission to improve or build on their own property or in receiving approval of building plans. Whatever the difficulty, churches should seek help from legal organizations like the Rutherford Institute, Liberty Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, or Pacific Justice Institute.
Here’s a sample of a few previous cases against churches just in the last year: