A billboard along a tollway caught the eye of Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky earlier this month — and the writer wasn't happy about what he saw.
The billboard read, "America is a Christian nation." It was advertising for a June 24 sermon of the same name by Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas. The megachurch preacher also is a spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump.
So Wilonsky went to war on his keyboard, tweeting a photo of the billboard.
And he penned his column, in which Wilonsky called Jeffress "among this city's most divisive voices" and blasted the billboard as "telling me and everyone else who does not worship Jesus Christ that we do not belong here."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat, had a thing or two to say as well about the billboard.
"That is not the Christ I follow," Rawlings was quoted as saying in the column. "It's not the Dallas I want to be — to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words, that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine."
What happened next?
Jeffress told Fox News the day after the Dallas Morning News column hit the internet, he got a call from a billboard company representative who cited the column and Rawlings' statements in it and said the billboard — there were reportedly two with the same message — was being pulled.
"We respect the right of the billboard company not to propagate a message they aren't comfortable with," Jeffress told the network, adding that he takes issue with what Rawlings said.
"He does not have the right to weigh in on this, to disparage our church and to directly or indirectly influence the billboard company," Jeffress added to Fox News before saying Rawlings has been "hostile" to First Baptist Dallas.
Jeffress added to Fox News that the whole ordeal "shows me the hypocrisy of liberalism" and demonstrates that "liberals are the most intolerant people of all when it comes to ideas they disagree with."
In another Fox News interview, Jeffress claimed Rawlings said nothing about an American Atheists' billboard several Christmases ago that encouraged readers to "skip church" and called Christianity "fake news." TheBlaze on Tuesday didn't immediately hear back from Rawlings' office regarding the veracity of Jeffress' claim.
What did the billboard company have to say?
Outfront Media — the company behind the billboard — told the Morning News that neither the paper nor Rawlings had anything to do with the billboard's removal.
The company added to the paper that a flood of complaints about the billboard's "divisive" message led to Outfront deciding to pull the "America is a Christian nation" message.
While Outfront's contracts dictate that billboards drawing complaints will be removed at the advertiser's expense, a First Baptist representative told the Morning News that Outfront offered the church a full refund.
What is First Baptist doing now?
Apart from the near guarantee that all the publicity will draw an overflow crowd to First Baptist this Sunday, Executive Pastor Ben Lovvorn told the paper that the church negotiated a contract with another billboard company to advertise on 20 digital billboards throughout Dallas.
Jeffress confirmed this in his Fox News interview, saying the 20 new billboards will replace the two that were taken down.
This writer's perspective
It's supposedly June, yet the temperature is feeling a little frosty around here.
With all the trash that billboards advertise along highways, it's rather amazing that a phrase such as "America is a Christian nation" can get so quickly censored. No vulgarity. No nudity. Just an idea, a theory — an opinion.
But no opinion for you, the left says: "We see or hear an opinion we don't like, and we'll crush it."
Wasn't it left-wing folks who — until around five minutes ago, at least — screamed "change the channel if you're offended by the TV show you're watching"? Now all of a sudden the left is howling and wailing with the kind of righteous indignation that would get Jerry Falwell begging them to chill out.
While Jeffress said he borrowed the "America is a Christian nation" phrase from John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, its origin doesn't really matter at this point.
What does matter is that a very loud, very strident and rapidly growing number of voices on the left are stamping down upon free speech in America, particularly when that speech is uttered by Christians.
At it only promises to get worse. Buckle up.