Cleveland is ready to welcome attendees to the Republican National Convention next week, and there on a great big billboard will be the image of conservative President icon Ronald Reagan with the quote, “We establish no religion in this country...Church and state, are and must remain, separate.” This sign was purchased by the fierce atheists from Wisconsin called the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
What won’t be there to welcome attendees is a large billboard that would have advertised the new DVD release of God’s Not Dead 2. The billboard company -- Orange Barrel Media -- insisted in two months of back-and-forth e-mails with the Christian movie producers Pure Flix that its religious message was "too political" and "way too incendiary" to display.
Pure Flix wanted an attention-grabbing 32-by-60-foot message hanging on the side of a building to advertise the movie, featuring actress Melissa Joan Hart as a teacher in trouble with school officials for bringing scripture to the classroom. Alongside her picture is the quote, “I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.”
Paul Bond at The Hollywood Reporter relayed that the billboard company didn’t like the “judged by God” message, starting with the “too political” and “too incendiary” complaints, and then when Pure Flix pointed out they are hosting an authorized event at the GOP convention (a worship service and movie screening), they moved on to the type of huge outdoor display they wanted.
They suggested that the city of Cleveland may have a problem. Bond reported that the “city did have an issue with the size and placement of the sign and advised the sign company of certain steps it would need to go through to get approval, but by then, the damage was done…” A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the content of the billboard was fine.
Pure Flix CEO Steve Fedyski told Bond “I’m perplexed. They dragged us along for weeks. Now, right up against the convention date, they say we aren’t approved, and they give us no logical rationale....My speculation is that someone, somewhere didn’t want our message out. It’s hard to understand, considering we’ve used the same marketing on CNN and other national networks.”
After all of Orange Barrel's hypersensitivity, the billboard company maintained that “no bias” had been intended and that the company had simply not gotten permission from the city to use the building. Meanwhile, the atheist billboard will be located near the airport underneath a “Welcome to Cleveland” sign.
PS: Reagan's church-and-state message came in an address to a Jewish audience on October 26, 1984, and in the same passage, Reagan told the crowd his administration supported a legal case allowing an employee to observe the Sabbath, not an atheist-pleaser: "At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions."