A conservative legal firm is claiming victory after government officials reportedly dropped their demand that a Virginia church remove two pro-life signs that were being displayed on its property.
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The Rutherford Institute, the legal firm that represented Valley Church of Christ in Harrisonburg, Virginia, said in a press release that zoning officials recently levied criminal charges against the house of worship over the signs.
Church leaders received an April 20 letter informing them that someone had complained about the signs, which the city initially claimed were displayed in violation of an ordinance governing banners.
One of the banners includes a quote from Mother Teresa that reads, "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish," along with a photo of a fetus; the other includes a scripture from Jeremiah 1:5, which reads, "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."
The congregation was reportedly given 10 days to comply with the ordinance or possibly face a Class 1 misdemeanor, which the Rutherford Institute said could have led to up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
But zoning officials subsequently backed away from demanding that the signs be taken down after attorneys with the Rutherford Institute stepped in and argued that the First Amendment bars content-based discrimination when it comes to signage, according to a press release.
"Under the First Amendment, the government has no authority to pick and choose what type of speech it approves," Rutherford Institute president John W. Whitehead said in a statement.
Harrisonburg officials are currently examining the ordinance to explore which signs are appropriate for display, WHSV-TV reported.
"The city's intent was not to regulate the content of the sign, simply to ensure the structure and material of the sign met the requirements of the ordinance," read a statement from the local government.
The signs continue to be on display outside Valley Church of Christ.
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