Jim Nimmons pastors First Southern Baptist Church, a small but dedicated group of believers who seek to impact their community for Christ. Recently, Pastor Nimmons took his message outside the church walls, painting the word "Eternity" in large letters on the roof of the church. Pastor Nimmons' intent was to encourage passers-by to consider where they would spend eternity.
The pastor's idea, while unique, was not entirely original; a resident of Sydney, Australia attained legendary status by writing the word "Eternity" in chalk throughout the city for thirty-five years, and since his death the message has been prominently celebrated by the city. In the U.S., countless church marquees have proclaimed a variety of messages and offered soul-searching questions for decades. The "Eternity" message got a chilly reception in Cathedral City, however. Local officials cited the church for violation of a municipal sign ordinance and have ordered the church to abate the "nuisance." Pacific Justice Institute represents the church and has appealed the city's actions. Arbitration will be scheduled in the next few weeks.
PJI attorney Karen Milam commented, "The city's actions are troubling on many levels. By its own definition, this sign ordinance is directed toward business advertisements for goods or services, which this message plainly is not. Beyond that, the city's sign scheme and tedious application process place heavy burdens on private, non-commercial speech which are highly problematic under the First Amendment."
Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, added, "It is unfortunate that Cathedral City has nothing better to do than trying to silence free speech on private church property. We are confident that, at the end of the day, the city's approach will not withstand a legal challenge."