Town Orders Removal of Church’s Easter Sign

By Jill Valentine

Five days before Easter, the Town of Berryville ordered Apple Valley Baptist Church, a local Southern Baptist Convention church plant, to remove an Easter sign the church had erected on the corner of Main Street and Buckmarsh Street (Route 340).

The sign, an orange 3 x 8 foot banner secured to its own free standing base, displayed a countdown to Easter Sunday.  The church website and meeting location were also listed.

An anonymous complaint left on the town voice mail led the town to look into the matter.  It is unclear which town employee listened to the message and no record was kept of the content.

Christy Dunkle, Assistant Town Manager and Town Planner informed the church on Tuesday that the sign violated the town zoning code and would have to be taken down.

According to Dunkle, the sign violated two town zoning ordinances.  The sign was erected without securing a sign permit from the town, a violation of section 307.8 and was erected at an off-site location, a violation of section 307.2.  The sign did meet the 24 square feet size limitation.

The town zoning code allows an exemption to the permit requirement for temporary religious signs that are placed on the religious organization’s own premises.  Apple Valley Baptist currently meets in D.G. Cooley Elementary School and does not own property in the town on which to place a sign.
Rev. Van Welton, Senior Pastor of Apple Valley Baptist Church was bewildered by the matter.  “I am surprised that anyone would have complained about the sign so close to Easter.  I thought it was a tasteful way to remind people that Easter is approaching.”

Welton, who has served as the pastor since the church’s founding, quickly complied with the order to remove the sign.  “We didn’t realize that the sign was violating the law.  Since it was on private property and was not a safety hazard, we did not think the church was doing anything wrong.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that local municipalities have the right to legislate time, place and manner restrictions on religious speech, which often includes church signs and other forms of public religious communication.  Local officials have to ensure that the regulations are content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leaves ample alternative channels for communication.

While complying with the order, Welton questions whether the town zoning ordinance is constitutionally overbroad and burdensome.  “Since we are a church plant and do not own any property, the zoning laws restrict us from placing signs in the community, even on private property, without going through a long approval process, no matter how dignified and attractive the signs may be. We rely on our temporary signage to attract people.  I feel like our religious liberty is being impaired.”

Berryville is currently served by five church plants, whose members live and work in the community.

Comments

  1. Wondered how long the town would let that sign stay.

  2. Another View says:

    I don’t know who is worse, the person who complained, Christy Dunkle in ordering the sign removed, or the sill Town Council members who pass such ridiculous zoning ordinances.

    One would think that a sign, celebrating Easter, placed on private property, would be NONE of government’s concern!

    • Beth D. says:

      I know I am going against the grain in this thread, however I don’t think Christy Dunkle should be singled-out here. She is doing her job, and she does her job well. Though, this is just one small fraction of her duties, I have seen her walking around and picking-up old, trashy, blown-over, possibly non-permit signs from all over the town. I was teasing her at an event a few weeks ago that I appreciate she is a “rule follower.”

      Whether we like them or not, ordinances serve an important purpose in any community. In this case, the whole anonymous report is irrelevant. If there wasn’t a permit, there wasn’t a permit. It is that simple. My twelve year-old had to get a permit to hold a yard sale for the animal shelter. It is the rule and she knows to follow it.

      Now, all that being said, a few more days would not have hurt in this instance and then a strong reminder that it won’t be permitted to happen again. Or, maybe a quick approval could have been made. Of course, that would be a rule stretcher’s, flexible approach.

      I also agree as someone noted below, the ordinances should be clear, concise, and well communicated. Then, if we don’t agree, we can gather folks to appeal to the council to make changes that better suit the community.

  3. I really agree with the town…a church sign this big is tacky and unnecessary. Find other ways to get new followers!

    • Another View says:

      Really? Well unless you are the owner of the property where the sign is located, is it really your business? And if so, where does it stop? Can we require folks to repaint their houses because we don’t like the color? Uproot plants and flowers because another variety might look more attractive? How about business names? Should they be subject to a public vetting to secure approval?

    • Redeemed says:

      Its a tribute to our Lord our Savior! Without his love and grace we would not have Easter or Christmas to celebrate!

      • Agreed. The One who instructed us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” That would seem to include following local ordinances. This sign is not a “tribute” – it’s an advertisement. A cross is a tribute. Big difference.

  4. StoneBroke says:

    Name one town in America that can’t have a banner displaying the “Countdown to Easter”? That’s Right! Berryville……GEE WHIZ!

    • livinginbville says:

      Do you think a sign promoting some liberal diversity would have been removed after one anonymous complaint? Doubt it.

      • NYCborn says:

        Hmm, if the liberal diversity sign was put up in Berryville I am sure the phone would be ringing off the hook in that office! What would a liberal diversity sign look like anyway, would it say WELCOME on it?

  5. Lisa Barber says:

    This is just sad! My children and I really enjoyed driving by the sign and counting down to Easter!

  6. roland clarke says:

    i think its a shame, the citizens in this community should be outraged but now i will see who step up to the plate.what group or other churches have the faith or love of jesus in there heart to defiend him.

  7. Well let’s see…where to begin….

    The fact is that Easter did not sneak up on anyone. It is the pinnacle of the liturgical calendar so while the town’s signage approval process can be a little slow, it was certainly navigable which would have avoided all of this drama.

    However…

    The unbiased application of enforcement is questionable. One anonymous complaint called in sent the town into action? I wonder was the “Into the Woods” banner on the Bank of Clarke County approved? Was it held to the same standard? I don’t know but I doubt it was. But beyond that what about all of the signs in the right of way throughout the town? Promoting private business, baseball and soccer sign-ups…these are against the town code. Will it take one soccer hater to see them all put in the trash?

    So if the trip wire for enforcement is a single anonymous call, doesn’t it make the law susceptible to those who have axes to grind? The dog barking law in town recently was amended because of the same type of open ended enforcement issues. Perhaps it’s time for clarification.

    Either enforce the laws or get rid of them. Leaving them unenforced and at the disposal of complainers is wrong.

  8. Good thing there aren’t other things for the town to worry about like no pharmacy, closing business’ etc

  9. Here’s your sign……

  10. livinginbville says:

    Just wondering what kind of person let this sign bother them so much as to warrant a complaint. It would have been removed within the next few days anyway. IT WAS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY. Bugs obviously didn’t have a problem with it.

  11. put it on my tab says:

    This is ridiculous! The town requesting that the sign be removed due to one anonymous complaint left on a voice mail? No anonymous complaint should be addressed and all complaints should be submitted in writing. Otherwise, who’s to say that a complaint was even filed? [redacted]

    • jennifer says:

      Absolutely! Anonymous complaints should not be taken seriously.

      • As bitter and as backstabbing as this community proves to be again and again, on here and in other forums? Just read the comments on here.

        I’m glad folks can remain anonymous, so they might feel empowered to have a voice without fear of getting lambasted unfairly.

    • ProArte says:

      The anonymity of the complaint is irrelevant. Someone saw a law being broken and notified the authorities, who checked it out and enforced the law. Simple.

      • Darren "Fly" Lambert says:

        When we develop the Community Watch Dog program….we will be sure to call you! [redacted]

        Happy Easter to everyone that Celebrates this Great Holiday……to everyone else….Nice Day!

  12. Clearly this ordinance isn’t narrowly tailored and the significant government interest it claims to serve is up for debate. Does it provide “ample alternative channels for communication?” Doubtful. The sign in question was tastefully made, temporary, had the OK of In & Out Auto Service, and served a public interest. This appears to be an overreach, and the effect of an unspecific ordinance that is in need of some update/clarification. How is this temporary sign a concern to the interests of Berryville, when they had a decorated mannequin hanging from a parking meter in December?!? Come on folks, get real.

  13. bvilleresident says:

    Wow, one anonymous complaint that wasn’t documented and the sign has to go…UNBELIEVABLE!

    What about all those yardsale, missing animal, etc signs hanging on every telephone pole in town, do they need a permit too? Wow…. Are the poor kids lookingf or their pets criminals? And speaking of yardsale signs, is there a permit for all of the town’s yellow banners hanging around? The aren’t on property owned by the town, are they? Or for the banner on Rt 7 in the county?

    I am not a religious person but there are worse things than a Easter sign on private property. As a home and business owner here I want to be able to display whatever decent thing I want and need to on my own property without a bunch of hassle. Other churches put their sandwich board signs out on the curbs every Sunday morning to advertise their services. Is that wrong too?

    Maybe we sould have a handbook issued to all of us so we will know when we are breaking the law…..

  14. Mr Mister says:

    4 days to Easter.

  15. I can’t believe this made news, its a sign not a crime. And there wasn’t anything hateful or discriminative on it. I just don’t understand this…

  16. Whoever complained about this should google the westboro baptsist church…

  17. I don’t have a problem with displaying the sign. I do have a problem with letting a church use a public building the taxpayers are footing the bill for. Do they pay the county to use this as their place of worship? Does the county get a cut of the offerings? What the heck!

    • Yes they pay to use the building! Which if (and it is) a county owned building—it goes into the county’s coffers! Really?

  18. Sid,

    Several churches use school space in Berryville. They all pay for that usage.

  19. If the sign violated the ordinance, it should have been taken down. Whether complaint made anonymously does not matter. Those who think the town’s action was some sort of slam against Easter or religion have martyr complexes. Welton should have had the courtesy – and insight – to have run this by the appropriate channels.

  20. George Archibald says:

    The church started by Pastor Welton has done much good in the community, from members helping with the town yard sales, town cleanups, and donated a “gasoline buy-down” for community members across from the local Exxon station where the sign was erected.

    The church also has given funds to help low-income families buy groceries, pay utility bills, move furniture, rides for doctor appointments, visits to local nursing homes and meet other needs. The bureaucratic response over the Easter sign is a shame, because it is not a nice or thankful way to treat a church that has been such a positive contributor in our community.

    • Bully for them. They violated an ordinance, it was pointed out to the town, and thus they enforced their ordinance. The pastor or other church officers should have checked with the town first before putting up something like that. The town most definitely CAN enforce such ordinances…as it can enforce certain architectural features in “historic” areas, etc.

      As for the banner for “Into the Woods,” I’d wager that Mrs. Chatham, the realtor who sponsored that banner, checked with the town first before erecting something with her name on it…

    • hmm George, people not nice in Berryville, especially government , where might you have heard that before?

  21. flower lady says:

    Yes, the “Into the Woods” sign at the Bank of Clarke did meet permit requirements and was approved by the Architectural Review Board, which is required of all signs, permanent and temporary that are in the Historic District.

  22. Blossom Butt says:

    Everyone seems to be missing the point. The sign was not applied for, nor asked if it could be put up, it was simply put up and did not meet the requirements of the town. Simple, law broken, sign goes down. No matter how much the church did, nor gives, nor helps, that is not the issue. If it were, then anyone could give money (i.e. bribe) to get to do things their own way instead of following the rules. There doesnt appear to be anything against the church, simply their sign was incorrect according to town code so it was removed. Plain and simple. No need to whine, just check out your facts next time and all will be well.

  23. Pastor Welton….the offer still stands! You can place the sign in my front yard!

    337 West Main St…..you can drop it off at your convenience!

    • Concerned says:

      You go Fly!!!!!!! They should put one up saying 2 days since the coward who wouldn’t leave their name reported the sign….

  24. T.Compher says:

    This town is something!! [redacted] well let me just say, why did it take them this long ( 5 days until Easter) to say to take it down? [redacted]

  25. I was wondering if the CDN had a new writer, looked the author up online, and it turns out it is Pastor Van’s wife! Who knew?? Just a reminder, most signs are ugly, even the speed limit signs, yet they are necessary and follow zoning rules that are fairly simple to follow.

  26. WOW, I did not expect this response. Prior to today’s discussion, I had come to believe that the sign was going unnoticed. That said, in light of some of the comments, please allow me to clarify a few critical facts.

    The point of the article was not to attack or single out anyone. This is especially true in regards to Miss Dunkle. I appreciate her work and devotion to the town and applaud her for doing her job in this situation. She was enforcing the law and I would expect nothing less. Her name was mentioned in the article in order to accurately convey the facts of the situation.

    Second, I agree with Steve above. I probably should have run the banner by the review board. It would have been the smart thing to do. I was excited to put it up and honestly did not think that it was unlawful on private property. This was not my first mistake in planting a church and will not be my last. I will however, remember next time to run a sign through whatever approval process is required.

    Third, my wife did write the initial article. She is in the media and writes well. Her maiden name is what she writes and broadcasts under. She has for years. The story accurately conveys the facts of the matter.

    And last, the point of the article was to raise awareness of a specific zoning ordinance that I feel unnecessarily burdens our church. The current sign regulation allows for temporary signs to be placed by a religious organization on its premises. Off-premise placement would require a permit, possibly including a fee. As has been noted, a temporary sign in the historical district would require approval by the Architectural Review Board (Admittedly, I didn’t do this).

    As a church plant, Apple Valley does not have property in Berryville and would be required to seek a sign permit every time the church desires to place a sign in the community. It appears that this rule would also apply to signs placed on private property.

    Requiring a church plant, which relies on numerous signs throughout the year to communicate its message and invite visitors, to apply for a permit each and every time is burdensome. Unlike organizations that put up one or two signs a year, we rely on signs weekly. While I accept the town’s responsibility to regulate any sign with reasonable time, place and manner guidelines, I encourage the town to consider relaxing the requirements on the church plants that serve the community.

    On a much happier note, Sunday is Easter and all are invited to come to Apple Valley Baptist if you do not already have a church home. It is going to be a great day!

    • jennifer says:

      You may want to refer to Loudoun County news stories regarding Christmas displays on the courthouse lawn if you think that the government can make special rules for “church plants”. I am sure you will love when the “church of the flying spaghetti monster” puts their sign up across the street, then the athiests. You can’t make exceptions for one and ban the rest. Are you really prepared for the result? Or have you even thought about it?

      • I’m excited that the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to be read at the Loudoun County Courthouse commencing April 30 and ending on the National Day of Prayer-May 5. If I could get off work to hear the WHOLE thing I would.

    • Terry McCarty says:

      Forget the sign and that it is there no more. See it in your heart. There are “How many days til Easter?”
      Don’t forget the true meaning of Easter. Sunday April 8th is Easter this year of 2012. The Welton family live through Christ and work hard sharing it with their friends and family and especially the town of Berryville. I believe all Van wanted was to open peoples eyes and hearts to the Easter season. It was nice to see the reminder that bought excitement to our Faith. The town iof Berryville is where God has placed Van and it is especially nice to see his courage to put it out there. He has learned a lesson concerning town ordinances and signs. I learned his faith in our Lord is in all the right places.
      May God Bless him an his family this Easter season as well as the town of Berryville.
      Remember: “HE IS RISEN” for you and for me!

      • I thought your post was very well written and reconcillatory as well as the following message from Grace Episcopal’s Evangeline (I’m sorry if I should have asked permisssion to post IF I made a mistake I beg forgiveness). This happens to be my favorite Easter hymn too

        .Easter 2012
        One of my favorite Easter hymns is about greenness. “Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain.”

        It goes on to talk about love coming again. It’s a reminder to me of how centered our Easter images are in the Northern hemisphere. We talk about greenness and new life and life springing forth from the earth when we talk about resurrection.

        I often wonder what Easter images come in the Southern hemisphere, and I think that church in the south has something to teach us about that.

        I was in Japan a month or so ago, and visiting the area of Japan that was so affected by the tsunami and the aftermath of the earthquake. The earth there is – was at that point – largely colorless, brown, in the middle of winter. No greenness. But at the same time the work of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Japanese church in that part of Japan, has brought a great deal of new life, life abundant for people who have been devastated and displaced, who are still mourning their loss of loved ones, the loss of their homes and employment.

        New life comes in many forms, even in seasons that seem fairly wintry.

        As we began Lent, I asked you to think about the Millennium Development Goals and our work in Lent as a re-focusing of our lives. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the UN report this last year has shown some significant accomplishment in a couple of those goals, particularly in terms of lowering the rates of the worst poverty, and in achieving better access to drinking water and better access to primary education. We actually might reach those goals by 2015. That leaves a number of other goals as well as what moves beyond the goals to full access for all people to abundant life.

        In this Easter season I would encourage you to look at where you are finding new life and resurrection, where life abundant and love incarnate are springing up in your lives and the lives of your communities. There is indeed greenness, whatever the season.

        Give thanks for Easter. Give thanks for Resurrection. Give thanks for the presence of God incarnate in our midst.

        The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
        Presiding Bishop and Primate
        The Episcopal Church

    • I’m surprised the town “enforced” this as well because I am still befuddled that the town couldn’t ‘enforce” a builder to put all the homes it was supposed to in a subdivision and tries to portray the rest of the homeowners who wanted the same break as irresponsible citizens who really wanted to shirk their committment. I hope I never live in Berryville long enough to figure it out either. As far as I am concerned I live in a police state.

  27. Pastor Whelton….I ask one favor of you this Sunday! Can you say a special prayer for the 1 anonymous person that complained about your banner and the celebration of Easter!

  28. This has nothing to do with the Baptist Church or any church. The ordinance applies to all INDIVIDUALS and INSTITUTIONS (i.e. churches, bakeries, hardware stores, etc). You can’t erect an improperly sized sign in certain areas of town unless you comply with the laws about signage. End of story. What’s with all the crazy rhetoric about the alleged complainant? That information is absolutely irrelevant to the issue at hand. The Church broke the law. The sign either complies or not…no exceptions for churches, individuals, or businesses. Got it? Enough with the stupid rhetoric!

    • My 2 Cents says:

      The rhetoric is that somebody had to call in. Was this sign causing you to miss your turn? People always find something to cry about! Esp in this town.

  29. What is “stupid” is that someone would actually waste their time and energy to call and complain about the sign! It was going to be there for 4 more days! Sounds to me like your complaint is about having the sign erected….are you sure you wasn’t the one that made the anonymous call?

  30. Frankly, if this sign was violating any ordinance then the ordinance should be changed or removed, we already have too many stupid laws.

  31. The sign has been at the location for some time now. I am sure town officials were aware of it. Must have not been a problem.. So as it seems, it was ok until someone complained. If an official was aware they should have made sure the law was enforced without a complaint. I would venture to say the town has dropped the ball once again. Now they have a few PO’d folks.

  32. Blossom Butt says:

    Umm, check your facts. The State of Virginia actually has requirements for signs on private property that are seen from the road. Yes, your property may not have a sign simply because it is your property. Case in point. The sign for the Shenandoah Retreat is on private property but they must apply for a permit each year. The new law would not allow such a sign, but they are grandfathered and may keep the sign there as long as it does not change in size, color, material, etc. In other words, if it can be seen from the roadway, then Big Brother CAN and WILL tell you if the permanent/semi-permanent sign can stay there.

  33. Suggestion … Why not have one of the church members put the sign
    On their own property for one day and then move it somewhere else
    before that “one” person can complain and before they can get sited
    by the town… It’s only 4 more days… So tired of mean people!!!

  34. Lacey Brooks says:

    I understand that an ordinance was violated and “law” broken. What I fail to understand is why the signed was allowed for 25 days. All town officials would’ve seen the sign from day 1. If the ordinance/law was going to be enforced then enforce it from the beginning. On that note I hope all have a blessed Easter. Enjoy time with your family and don’t lose sight of what Easter is all about. John 3:16.

  35. My 2 Cents says:

    Remember the town we all live in here people……They want this one horse town to remain so. Advertising for a church and Easter, who cares….. Way to go Berryville. This place is getting more ridiculous as the years go by.

  36. Yes, there is a “process” for placing signs in Berryville – However, many of us are concerned about the issues of reasonable accessibility, enforcement, and free speech surrounding this process. For starters, if our government officials were responsive to the community, they would work to make this ordinance more clear, and provide “ample alternative channels for communication” for public groups like churches. I spoke with the a town official, who informed me that there are NO plans to review and clarify this ordinance. What a disappointment!
    The inconsistent application of certain ordinances seems to be a real challenge in both the town and county. The lack of proper documentation of complaints can lead to abuse and simply should NOT be a standard operating procedure in any government. The town/county should require proper documentation of ALL complaints. This is a matter of accountability to the voting public – not to mention the legal liabilities it may bring.
    The sign was itself was tasteful, temporary, posed no safety threat, and cause no harm to the town or its interests. Berryville would be hard-pressed to make an argument otherwise considering the strange array of holiday decorations that they allow on main street in December – and the other special event signs that don’t always appear to be compliant. The church sign was a service to the community and an exercise in free speech. Our policies should encourage this type of positive community interaction by NON-PROFIT religious groups. It should be a priority for Berryville to review and tidy-up this ordinance soon!

  37. it certainly did not bother me any more than the Christmas wreaths hung on poles through out the town during the Christmas season. Actually I think the wreaths are pretty too.

  38. To “FLY”,

    I believe that what you wrote was wrong it is “Welton” NOT “Whelton”!!! Beside that I agree with you 100%

  39. BnThrDnTht says:

    Clarke Daily News needs to review their code of ethics as it relates to journalism. They can start here since this was the primarily source. http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
    There are probably more. But, key in on the Conflicts of Interests piece of SPJ .I will never again review Ms. Valentine’s pieces submitted as a journalist to Clarke Dalily News as objective journalism; and will await work from Clarke Daily News as to whether I might further beleive them or not.

  40. The sign was a major eye sore. I was tempted to drive over it. The agenda of the church is to push their beliefs down the throats of those who do not believe the same. The goal of that is to up enrollment in order to increase $$$. It’s a business folks, wake up. That being said, the rules are clear regarding businesses putting up signs in town.

    • Bocephus says:

      John, make sure you say that about all religions, as your tone indicates a protection of religions other than christianity. Hypocrisy does not work despite it being standard practice for many (including the current administration).

      • If it was any other religion,the sign would not have lasted a day. You’re wrong Bo. In this country I’m talking about the evangelicals. Most other religions tend to keep to themselves. In this part of the country at least.

  41. Right Winger says:

    You people kill me. You all get up in arms and flustered about a sign ordinance being enforced, but when a CCPS Administrator is caught red-handed lying to children and parents to cover their own sorry rear, you let it go.

    Where are your priorities? People should matter, especially children. Kids should be able to grow up in a society where honesty is a virtue and lying is not.

  42. I am glad to see that sign go. While I respect others rights to worship as they see fit, I object to being “spammed” even time I enter town. This signage was inappropriate.

    If you want to post a religious sign – then all versions of “religious” signs need to be allowed. I know the people in the county would not be happy if that happened.
    I dont belong to any organized religion.
    I thank you for the removal.

  43. “Spammed”– Great verbiage for the celebration of Easter! Next time…go the other way around town…so that awful SPAM doesn’t destroy your day!

  44. I Live For Him says:

    And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

    Wake Up Berryville !!!!! The End is Drawing Near !!!!

    • Blossom Butt says:

      Maybe you should put up a sign in town warning everyone about the End Drawing Near

  45. The point of societal “tolerance” is not to force one another into quiet prison-like boxes, eliminating ALL public expression, but to promote co-existence and mutual respect for each other and our different expressions. You don’t have to look at the sign, like, or believe the sign, but you could maybe feel good in knowing that it gave some of your neighbors great comfort and enjoyment. Maybe it’s not exactly your thing, but hey.. isn’t that’s what tolerance and empathy are really all about.

  46. They also tried to tear our Lord and Savior down, beating him and nailing his body to the cross. But he arose victorious. Our victory is in Jesus Christ !! Happy Easter everyone!!

  47. I Live For Him says:

    Happy Easter !!! Thank You Jesus !!!