Religious group sues NH town for sign denial
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire religious group is suing the town of Chichester after local planners denied a permit to erect a 12-foot-high electronic sign to display Bible verses on busy Route 4.
The group, named “Signs for Jesus,” says the 4-3 vote last month to deny the permit violates their free speech and equal protection rights. They say a tractor store less than a mile away received approval in January to construct an electronic sign.
The planning board said the permit was denied because members felt it would pose safety concerns by distracting drivers with lengthy messages at a busy intersection.
Signs for Jesus plaintiffs, in their lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Concord, say the sign approved for the Bobcat tractor sales company one mile east is roughly the same display dimension as the sign they want to erect — 4-by-6 feet.
The town’s zoning board of appeals and the state Department of Transportation both approved the Signs for Jesus proposal, with DOT saying it would not pose a traffic hazard.
“It’s content-based discrimination,” said Attorney Michael Tierney, a member of the Alliance Defense Fund that represents the religious group. The ADF is a national group of Christian lawyers and religious groups.
Tierney said the proposed sign would not flash, scroll or blink and would feature a single Bible verse each day. He said he knows of no similar, electronic signs that display religious verses in the state.
Attorney Barton Mayer, who represents Chichester, did not return several calls seeking comment. Chichester Planning Board Chairman Thomas Jameson, who voted to approve the sign, had no comment.
Signs for Jesus is seeking a court order to permit construction of the sign as well as unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.
No hearings have been scheduled in the case.