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December 2, 2008

Organization and City Clash over Billboard

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has responded to a removal of the organization's billboard promoting a world without religion. Not surprisingly, they're suing Rancho Cucamonga and the city officials who encouraged the billboard operator to take it down:

"It does appear that the city was engaging in this officious intervention and has violated our free speech and our establishment clause rights," said foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "They used their intimidation powers against the billboard company, I believe."

The billboard, which bore a stained-glass motif and the Wisconsin-based group's name and Web address, went up around Nov. 13 and was taken down a week later, Gaylor said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Rancho Cucamonga.

The foundation contemplated suing the billboard firm, General Outdoor Co., which violated a two-month contract. The group, however, said it didn't want to antagonize billboard companies. The foundation is more focused on state involvement in religion, Gaylor said.

"It's much more serious for the government to censor than for private entities to censor," she said.

To be sure, religion is ensconced in Inland Empire public life - not just presidential elections. I've mentioned before an article I wrote when I was at The Sun about how local government's were responding to a court decree that they not open municipal meetings with prays that invoke a specific deity. Praying to God was deemed OK. But Jesus or Allah or Buddha - that's off limits.

But there is no way to prevent it, and many city officials have no interest in doing so.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)