VIRGINIA

Fairfax County limits church sign to two messages per day

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A simple little church sign is causing quite the uproar in Vienna.

An electronic sign that sits in front of The Church of the Good Shepherd off Hunter Mill Road has stirred up a huge fight over the issue of free speech and religious rights.

The church recently purchased the $37,000 sign to announce service times and community events, along with the occasional inspirational message. However, just after installing the sign, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors cited a county ordinance that prevents more than two messages a day on a portable sign.

The church, on many days, had posted three or more messages.

"We're a church and we want to let people know what we do," church board member Sherry Spinelli said.

Larry Kennedy, a neighbor to the church, calls the rule "silly and confusing," especially considering the kinds of messages the sign was displaying.

"It was during the storm time...they were relief messages saying 'we have shelter,'' Kennedy said. "It was those kinds of messages and it was two or three too many."

The church and county officials met last month to try and reach a compromise, but they couldn't The church is now fighting back and suing the county, claiming their religious and free speech rights are being violated.

Officials with Good Shepherd say when the county issued the permit to erect the sign, they gave it to the contract who put it up. They say they weren't aware of the message limit ordinance until the county came calling.

"We believe in open hearts, open minds and open doors," Spinelli said. "I would like to add open communication to that list."

Fairfax County officials had no public comment on the issue or the lawsuit, but they have two weeks to respond in court. In the meantime, the church says it will keep to the restriction of two messages per day.

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