BARTOW (FBW)-Some residents of Bartow, a small central Florida town south of Orlando, called around town Friday trying to find out where they could get more “God Bless America” patriotic signs.
The signs were distributed by the church July 4 and in one neighborhood “almost everyone had one,” according to Marvin Pittman, a deacon and Sunday School teacher.
Everything was calm until last week. That’s when a person, not a member of the church, got a sign. Now, Bartow Code Enforcement has gone throughout Bartow issuing violations citing a 13-year-old ordinance that says the “temporary” signs must come down because they are out-of-season.
Pittman, president of the Florida Baptist State Board of Missions and a retired member of law enforcement who served for 42 years, said the ordinance “probably wouldn’t stand judicial muster.”
Although people being told to remove yard signs from their lawns may be “a little thing,” Pittman said he believes the “God Bless America” signs are being singled out for special attention—and that threatening to fine individuals if they don’t remove them can be compared to a violation of their fourth amendment rights by suggesting involuntary seizure.
Pittman said he believes the ordinance violates the First Amendment.
“It’s a continuation of the erosion of our right of expression as Christians and it’s an erosion of our constitutional rights of free expression,” Pittman said.
As the ordinance is written, Pittman said it is “a very vague and very poorly worded ordinance.”
Bartow Code Enforcement told a local news broadcaster the ordinance dates back 13 years and allows for some exceptions.
"They can have those signs out on holidays that are relevant,” Gregg Lamb, Bartow Code Enforcement Director told FOX news Oct. 3. “You can have a temporary sign around Christmas if it's related to Christmas. Or the 4th of July. The sign ordinance has exceptions for that.”
The issue is set to go before Bartow City Commissioners Monday, Oct . 7.
What may have started with “good intentions” could have “unintended consequences,” Pittman said. “The county commissioners said they have the responsibility to protect people from the law in some cases.”
“What’s right’s right,” he said. “Sometimes we make mistakes and that’s what we are taking up with right now.”
Hopefully commissioners will “step back” and appoint some individuals to work out a solution. “I’m just tired of folks who can tell people what they can and can’t do.”
Pittman, a chaplain for the Polk County Sheriff's Department for the past 10 years, said the town’s dilemma apparently has “gone viral” as concerned citizens all over the United States are clamoring for information.
“It started as just a good Christian thing to do,” he said of the signs.
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