City officials in Waxahachie, Texas, are saying a big billboard has to go. And that has some people questioning whether it's because of the billboard's religious message, WFAA-TV reported.
What's the message?
The north-facing side of the billboard shows a pair of hands posed in prayer with the question, "Did you think to pray?" The south-facing side of the billboard displays an ad for Executive Inn & Suites. The billboard is located on just off of Interstate 35E, south the city's limits.
"I'm for the billboard and I'm for prayer, so I hope it can stay," Rennae de Freitas, a Waxahachie resident, told the TV station. The city is located about 35 miles south of Dallas.
The billboard has been there since 2015, but Media Choice added the prayer message just several months ago, WFAA reported.
"You have good people trying to enforce an absurd statute or ordinance," Dan Gus told WFAA. He's the attorney representing the billboard's owner, Acme Partnership/Media Choice.
A Facebook post by Gus & Gilbert, P.C. with more than 300 comments and 815 shares states, in part:
The ordinance in question allows the City to order the removal of signs based on their message or content. Even property owners and citizens outside the city limits who have no representation in city government are subject to the ordinance prohibiting signs with messages that city officials deem unacceptable. Any failure to comply can be met with a fine of up to $2,000.00 per day. The City has threatened to take the owner of this sign to court if the sign is not removed.
City Manager Michael Scott told the TV station it cannot regulate a message, only the sign's structure. He added that the religious message is not an issue.
The billboard company has the proper permits required form the Texas Department of Transportation, but failed to get the required permit from the city, Scott said. The billboard was installed inside the in the city's "extraterritorial jurisdiction" and that means it must follow Waxahachie's sign ordinances.
"It's certainly not about the content," Scott said.
Gus, the billboard company's attorney, said he does not believe the city is specifically targeting prayer.
"They're all good people and to my knowledge all good people of genuine faith," Gus told WFAA. "I don't think there's any evil motive here that is anti-religion."
What's really the issue?
But Gus still has concerns about the language included in the ordinance.
"It could be any person's ox that's being gored by this statute," he said. "In this one particular instance, and it's gotten a lot of attention, it just happened at this moment to be a religious message. It could be a different message the city says you can't do, and that's where we have the constitutional problem."