It appears a wee bit of controversy has hit the Mother Road in the form of a billboard in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
From the Los Angeles Times:
A group that promotes separation of church and state filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Rancho Cucamonga after a billboard on Route 66 that read “Imagine No Religion” was taken down and destroyed.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing the city because it says Redevelopment Director Linda Daniels, who is also named in the suit, contacted the billboard company telling it of the numerous complaints the city had received regarding the billboard and asked if the company could do anything.
“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.
An image of the now-disposed billboard can be seen here.
I’m as big of a supporter of the First Amendment as you’ll find. But this lawsuit is wrong-headed on several levels.
First, the billboard was owned by the billboard company, not the Freedom From Religion Foundation. If a billboard company has second thoughts about a client’s message, it’s within its prerogative to remove it.
Second, because the company refunded the lease, there is a lack of monetary damages to the foundation. If anyone should be sued, it should be the billboard company for breach of contract.
Third, there’s a lack of proof the city was directly behind the billboard’s being taken down. It’s telling that the Freedom from Religion Foundation spokeswoman couches her allegations with terms such as “it does appear” and “I believe.” The only apparent evidence is that the city passed along to the company the complaints about the billboard.
The lawsuit is little more than a publicity stunt.
The billboard’s message was taken from a lyric in this song, which is a lot more thoughtful and complex: