November 22, 2008

Rancho Cucamonga Censors Atheist Billboard

The city government of Rancho Cucamonga, California (population: about 127,000) pressured the General Outdoor sign company to remove an "Imagine No Religion" billboard after receiving 90 complaints about it.

SoCal's atheist billboard taken down

Complaints have led to removal of an atheist group's "Imagine No Religion" billboard in Rancho Cucamonga.

The General Outdoor sign company took down the Freedom From Religion Foundation billboard on Thursday after the city asked if there was a way to get it removed. Redevelopment director Linda Daniels says they got 90 complaints...

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says the city shouldn't be censoring speech...
Gaylor is 100% correct; there is absolutely no good argument for removing the sign. If the billboard had been an advertisement for McDonald's and 90 people concerned with juvenile obesity had requested it be taken down, they almost certainly have been ignored and dismissed as cranks. As the sign dissented from a belief in sky-pixies, though, a small number of complaints from true-believers was enough to give the city's government an excuse to exercise censorship.

There's more from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin:
Freedom of speech in question as Rancho Cucamonga asks company to take sign down

By Wendy Leung

...Gaylor said sign companies have declined business before, but no company has taken down a sign after it went up...

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said the city's actions are "dangerously close" to censorship and a violation of the First Amendment.

"A city government has no business trying to dictate or influence the content of an advertising image, particularly one that's political and controversial as this is simply because some people don't like it and complained about it," Scheer said. "The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect speech that is unpopular, to protect the views that are in the political minority, as long as they don't cross the line and use the speech for some seriously unlawful purpose, which clearly did not happen here."

Scheer said the city may not have forced General Outdoor to take down the sign, but it's obvious the company did not act independently.

Again, that's exactly right. The sign was in no way obscene. Controversy alone, the mere fact that some people disagree with the billboard's message, is not a legitimate reason for a city government to step in and "request" it's removal.

The City of Rancho Cucamonga's Redevelopment Agency website provides the following contact information:

Rancho Cucamonga Redevelopment Agency
10500 Civic Center Drive
Rancho Cucamonga, CA. 91730
Director Linda Daniels:

Whether or not you agree with the opinion expressed by the billboard, there can be no doubt that the interference of Linda Daniels constitutes censorship and a clear breach of free speech. She shouldn't get away with it.

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