Church Responds to Columbus Billboard Removal June 27, 2011

Church Responds to Columbus Billboard Removal

After an atheist billboard was removed from a Columbus, Ohio site because of a church complaint, readers figured out the closest church was Christ Cathedral Church.

Kevin Jakubowski contacted them on their Facebook page to confirm if they were responsible for the billboard’s removed and they said they were:

Kevin is polite in his dialogue with them, but there are still some questions:

  • Does the church own this billboard space? If so, why was approval granted to put it up there in the first place?
  • Do checks for the billboard get made out to the church? If they were paid in full (as was the case here), are they returning the money?
  • Why was the church so offended by this billboard? If they dislike that it portrays atheism in a positive light, have they removed other billboards in the past?

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this issue just yet.

***Update***: This looks to be the Google Maps image of the billboard and the church:

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  • SeekerLancer

    I agree it makes no sense. Why would an advertising company post a billboard on a sign they don’t own?

    I mean if this is the case that it somehow happened then fine, it should have been removed, but I really want to know how this happened if that’s the case.

  • NotYou007

    Now you all know my real name but I’m cool with that. Now I can state I am 100% out of the closet and it feels good.

    I’m glad I stepped up to the plate and found out the truth.

  • That is odd that they are not more involved in WHAT is being put up on the billboard.

  • fett101

    Wow… that church has one awful website.

  • The church may be leasing their land to the billboard company or extra money. Once the church saw it was being used for an atheist billboard they may have complained, threatening to terminate the agreement. Whether they legally had the right would be up to the terms of their contract.

  • GregFromCos

    Interesting. There is a strip club that I drive by occasionally, and they have a great big lighted billboard that appears to be on their property. I’ve always smiled because I’ve seen several church ads on it at times. I wonder if they are able to object to those ads. Have to say, if it is on their property, I don’t really have an issue if they have veto power on the ads that are displayed. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • If the land was being leased by the church to the billboard company, then I have to wonder: was it the billboard company or the FFRF that picked the location?

  • JBC24

    That’s right… Keep everyone in the dark! No outsider views for our slaves! Er, uh, I mean parishoners!

  • “Wow… that church has one awful website.”

    If by awful you mean not so well designed, perhaps. I’ve seen better, that’s true.

    If by awful you mean what they say about their goals and beliefs, well, it has the same problems as any other Christian church, but some of it is quite laudable.

    Follow the link to their Building Bridges section, and the stated goals are admirable ones that I could agree with — minus the preaching.

  • GregFromCos

    I have to wonder if the billboard is one of these from the pictures in their Facebook page. It does make me chuckle since those would greet them directly as they exited church!

  • Eric W

    Look at the Google street view of this site. The billboard is *right next to* the church. (See the cross on the building). If this is in fact the right billboard, I totally understand why they got offended. It’s in their parking lot.,-82.913282&spn=0.021819,0.02635&sll=39.98013,-82.913354&sspn=0.000835,0.001206&gl=us&z=16&layer=c&cbll=39.981237,-82.913393&panoid=i7g-xen58RuHvSUSiUY4Eg&cbp=12,227.6,,0,19.93

  • erp

    Almost certainly the land is being leased to the billboard company who would be responsible for maintaining the actual board and putting messages up.

    I also wonder whether it is a carryover lease from the previous owner (apparently the church has only recently moved to this site [unless they have two sites]).

    The following is pure speculation: I also wonder about the property tax exemption. Churches are normally exempt but commercial use not related to the primary purpose will cause questions (given that both the atheist message and the animal shelter message are both likely from non-profits perhaps there is a restriction to non-profits which keeps them within the law).

  • anonymous

    “Do checks for the billboard get made out to the church? If they were paid in full (as was the case here), are they returning the money?”

    I think probably not. Note that the billboard was not “removed” it will change location. So probably the story is consistent. Since the advertising company will still show the billboard up no refund is needed.

  • Jon Peterson

    Edit: I am blind. >.<

  • Florian

    Tax-exempt church makes money from renting billboard space. Churches are commercial businesses and should be taxed as such.


  • DJ Gregor

    Here is the location of the major road (Steltzer) that is adjacent to the church’s property. If you do street view and look SSW, you see the billboard at the S edge of their property and if you look W you see the church. They are almost certainly leasing the space for the sign to an outdoor advertising company and it was that company that put up the billboard. This is at least the second time I’ve heard of the property owner complaining and the offending atheist billboard being removed. The request seems reasonable to me–I’d be pissed having something that seriously offends me on my property.

  • Tony

    The church has already pissed off Jesus who was after all apparently righteously peeved that the Temple was being used for commerce. They are selling the house of god and now they’re all sad because they don’t agree with the message?

  • Richard Wade

    First of all, thank you Kevin for helping to establish the facts of the situation, even at the cost of your anonymity as an atheist. Perhaps that was a step that you were developing toward anyway?

    I’m not surprised by the church objecting to the billboard’s content since it is on their property, and I’m not surprised by the billboard company’s willingness to remove the offending ad just to preserve a good relationship with their sign’s “landlord,” even if their contract might give them freedom about the content of whatever ads they display.

    BUT what really surprises me is the boneheaded decision by the billboard company to put the atheist sign on that particular site in the first place. What were they thinking? I guess they just were looking at a list of addresses where they have contracts with landowners.

  • NotYou007

    Richard Wade Says:

    June 27th, 2011 at 9:41 pm
    First of all, thank you Kevin for helping to establish the facts of the situation, even at the cost of your anonymity as an atheist. Perhaps that was a step that you were developing toward anyway?

    Well I wanted to know the facts so I asked and I did e-mail Hemant once I knew them.

    That is how this thread happened and as I told Hemant this blog has helped me truly come out of the closet and tonight I’m 100% out and it feels good.

    Tonight I became tired of hiding behind a door and it felt great to open it and step outside.

  • fett101

    @Nathan, awful as in Geocities level of design.

  • You people are missing the point. God owns everything. Duh! Of course he’s pissed off. All billboards are on his property.

  • JBC24

    I’m not siding with this church or anything, but what did this group expect to happen by posting this ad where they did? It seems kind of inevitable.

  • DC

    When we ran the billboard campaign here in Raleigh, we had some choice where we put the billboards. But although I wasn’t in on all the planning sessions, I don’t think our representatives were ever told what businesses the billboards sat over. We were given coordinates and a closeup, grainy picture of the billboard.

    Without knowing more facts, it’s starting to sound like a bonehead move by the advertising company

  • Rich Wilson

    Welcome out Kevin 🙂

  • JD

    I am surprised that it was one of the possibilities I speculated in the previous story. I thought it was possible, but an outside chance. I think subletting land for billboards is relatively common (at least not unheard of), but I have not seen one on church property like that before.

  • BryanS

    It makes sense to me. Most property owners who have billboards on their property are not in the advertising business. They contract out to outdoor sign companies who do the selling and negotiation on the property owners behalf. Here it would seem that the church either did not give good guidelines to the outdoor ad firm, or that firm didn’t bother to vet the advertisement for potential concerns by their client.

  • Well – here’s the deal. Billboards are typically owned by large media companies. They rent the space to advertisers through advertising agencies who include them as part of their media buys.

    This particular billboard (like most in the country) is owned by Clear Channel. For those that don’t know – Clear Channel is the largest owner of radio & satellite broadcasting stations in the world.

    Anyway, here’s the evidence… I went to Google maps and swing around to the back side of the billboard:

    It’s been a long time since I worked in advertising, but I believe (and I could be wrong!) Clear Channel typically has easements on such installations. In other words – it’s theirs, even though it’s on the church’s property. IE- the church has no rights to the billboard or what gets displayed on it.

    That said, I can understand the church’s complaint. It definitely comes across as antagonistic given the location – which it certainly was never intended to be.

    I am guessing Clear Channel pulled it in an effort to “be a good neighbor” of sorts.

    Time will tell… but I’d bet this is essentially accurate.

  • I’m new around here so forgive my asking. Why are people “coming out” about their atheism like it’s some sort of shameful secret? I have no problem telling anyone about it, never had.

    On the billboard subject; it was their property so I agree with their rights to take it down. I don’t believe a church should be able to lease land to advertisers in the first place though.

  • Atheistically Yours

    It is clear that in future billboard postings that the owner of the property the billboard is posted on (i.e. the GROUND IT GOES INTO!), will have to be confirmed! This is clearly a glitch on FFRF’s part, by not knowing who owned the ground beneath the billboard! (I still think there should be VERY verbal picketing outside this church though! The Supreme Court has proved to be very PRO-FREEDOM OF SPEECH recently, and I think a few well-placed protestors will have this idiot church being more concerned about what happens IN FRONT OF IT, then what is said on a billboard posted above it!

  • JBC24

    Florian: I could not possibly agree more. Tax them.

  • Heidi

    Does that church look like a motel to anybody else?

    I’m a lot less comfortable with them having a for-profit billboard in the first place than I am with them wanting control over its content.

  • NotYou007

    I’m glad Hemant posted the screen shot. They have removed my posting and closed posting on their wall.

    They can’t prevent me though from posting a comment to what is already posted on their wall.

  • Nick Andrew

    By exercising editorial control over the advertising content placed on that billboard, the church is implicitly approving all other advertisements shown.

    No? Think about it. The church had a choice in the past, and the choice they made was to forego some self-respect and put up a huge sign which will promote some third party, in return for filthy lucre. Now they tell us this innocuous advertisement is beyond the pale and cannot be permitted. Although I do think they have a final right of refusal, I also think that the mere fact of erecting a billboard and leasing it to an advertising company means the church has given up some control over how that space is used. The final right of refusal should be a last resort in extreme cases, not a first resort for the first message with which they disagree.

  • gwen

    I’d really like to see a list of advertisements they have accepted in the past for that billboard.

  • Erp

    Any business that leases land to a billboard company could certainly and justifiably complain to the billboard company if a competitor’s ads were put on that billboard. It wouldn’t surprise me if it weren’t written into the contract. A creative business might put up a counter ad.

    However the mistake seems to be the billboard company’s (or else they really wanted to irk the church for some reason).

  • Heidi

    They took the posts down, too? Are they embarrassed that they’re taking money for a billboard? Or that they prefer not to allow opposing viewpoints? Or is it just that they don’t like how Kevin was more polite than they were?

  • Tracy

    Kevin, you are a class act and I’m proud to have you representing us on this, even if it was for just a little while. It cracks me up that they took your post down. We can’t have atheists acting all polite and civilized and just leave it out there for the world to see! That’s just bad form. 😉 Oh! How funny! I just saw that you posted the link on their page a bunch of times in the comments. I didn’t catch that right away. That’s fantastic!

  • Dan


    I applaud you for respectfully contacting them, and I understand you being offended that they deleted your post, but do you really feel that copying the same link to 12 different posts on the church’s Facebook page is mature or appropriate?

    It really annoys me when Christians do that copy-and-paste spamming on every post on atheist sites. People already have bad enough stereotypes of atheists without us spamming a church’s Facebook page with the same comment 12 times. One visible comment at a time should make your point.

  • @Florian – so long as any income goes back into the running of the organisation and not into any kind of shareholder pockets, then Churches are NOT running businesses anymore than Girl Scouts selling cookies are. Not for profit is not for profit (but that doesn’t mean they can’t make income) whether you like their beliefs or not.
    Despite the presumed hope that taxing churches would bleed them dry (it won’t, the parishners will just give more) the only thing it will do is take away the only the thing restraining religious leaders from endorsing politicians. That’s called cutting of your nose to spite your face.

  • So if Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church can picket the funerals of gay people and soldiers why can’t these folks tolerate a sign about atheism?

  • Tom

    [b]the only thing it will do is take away the only the thing restraining religious leaders from endorsing politicians.[/b]

    Why? Are other corporations, which do pay tax, allowed to endorse politicians? That seems very, very wrong to me, if that’s how it works.

  • Eh, they actually have say over the billboard. They aren’t just barking requests randomly they own the land it rests on. — I no longer care.

  • what tracy said. i mean, think about it. if this thread were at a xtian website about an atheist org taking down a xtian billboard, just think of how screamingly insane and hateful the comments would be. we’re all civil and interested in freedom and equality.

    andrew, religious leaders already and openly endorse politicians they support. where have you been? look at any major congregation- catholics, mormons, southern baptists, orthodox jews, shia imams… uniformly, and in public, they come out against gay marriage, women’s rights, science education… it’s beyond obvious that most religious organizations support conservative politics, even if they maintain the fiction of neutrality by not saying the name our loud.

  • They may not have the right to restrict the speech on the billboard, I’ve tried looking it up but am not finding anything too easy. The idea being that a business like the advertising company is a public accommodation and as such is not allowed to discriminate. Even though the billboard is on the church’s land, it’s being leased as part of that business.

    IANAL, though. Hopefully someone around here is?

  • Claudia

    OK, so I’m going to assume that all of this is legal, that their agreement with the billboard company gives them veto power over the content of the ads. Assuming that, then obviously a legal challenge would be unwarranted and they would have the right to demand its removal.

    But I sure as hell am not going to respect them for it.

    Unless someone can show me how they could find it within themselves to be offended by this ad in the absence of pre-existing bigotry against atheists, I’m going to treat their decision as the bigoted one it appears to be.

    If the billboard is theirs entirely and they don’t allow anything they don’t like up, I suppose it would be consistent though. Do they allow ads for strip-joints? How about other churches? What about synagogues, or gay outreach, safe sex? Alcohol? I mean, the list of stuff they would likely find unseemly (including of course, the very existence of people like us) is pretty long. I’d love to see how consistent their use of the billboard is.

  • fett101, the website was apparently created by a company that does sites specifically for churches.

  • MaryLynne

    Whoever asked about why for some people it is a big deal to come out – for examples, go to Richard’s advice columns. Many people find that family, friends, co-workers and sometimes strangers are angry, hurt and/or horrified that someone has the nerve to say they don’t believe in God.

    People have been harrassed, thrown out of the house, educational support taken away, shunned by family, and harrassed or fired from jobs when they came out as atheist. If you’ve never dealt with that, that’s great. Many people have to consider the personal cost of disclosing their lack of belief.

  • Chris aka “Happy Cat”

    Hemant, maybe you can work your magic as Ambassador to the Xtians and convince the church that allowing the billboard is a good idea. Turn on the ol’ baby-eating charm.

  • Isn’t it a shame that the church didn’t use the opportunity to engage in some helpful discussions with atheists in the church? They could have asked plenty of questions from a guest speaker and helped to dispel some of the myths that are associated with atheism. Obviously people can be good without God but why wouldn’t the church want to acknowledge that and show atheists that their church is about more than just being good.

    I guess that they don’t want to have anything that will challenge their safe position within the community. It is almost as if they are afraid that someone might stop and wonder if there was any point at all in attending church.

  • JJR

    I’m glad the billboard message ended up there, however briefly. Maybe swayed some fence sitters to adjust their seating just a tad in our direction. Maybe.

  • Kishi

    Heidi: I’m not sure if it used to be a motel or if it was a restaurant of some kind. The only reason I made a note of it is because I end up going right past it when I go with my father to the VA clinic that is right up the street.

    I thought it was a rather odd-looking place to put a church to be honest.

    I’m not 100% sure, but the billboard was there before the church moved in, so it’s probably not something they wanted to put up there. It was already there when they moved in.

  • Marguerite

    “They may not have the right to restrict the speech on the billboard, I’ve tried looking it up but am not finding anything too easy.”

    They may or may not have the right, per se, but I don’t have a problem with them asking that it be removed, under the circumstances. It wasn’t too bright of the billboard company to put it there in the first place. I was at first annoyed, and said so on the original post on this topic, but once it turned out that the church actually owned the land… well, putting the billboard there created an adversarial impression, which is exactly what the ad campaign was trying to AVOID. Best that it go elsewhere, IMHO.

  • Florian

    @AndrewFinden: I’d never thought of it that way re taxes and political endorsements. Thank you.

  • jenea

    What Dan said.

    Kevin, you did us all a good one with your original sleuthing, and I’m disappointed that Christ Cathedral Church removed your question from their page. However, your subsequent behavior (namely, spamming their posts with links to Friendly Atheist) is an asshole maneuver. Same goes for you, Jim Rael, if you’re reading this.

  • NotYou007

    It was only a temporary asshole maneuver and I have removed the postings.

    It was a simple point to them that they could not silence me with ease, that is all it was. Doesn’t matter now though because the postings are gone and I will never visit their site again.

  • Rebecca

    Aren’t they supposed to turn the other cheek or something like that?

  • Dan

    Has anyone asked the FFRF why they chose to put their sign on a billboard owned by a church? Surely they knew where their ad was going. Knowing why they chose that particular location would certainly be enlightening.

  • seasicksquid

    I’ve done media buys with billboards in the past, and usually you don’t get to choose where your billboards are placed, you select a package based on number and visibility that you want to pay for. This was probably merely an oversight on the billboard company.

  • Richard Wade

    Studying the site with Google street view, I noticed that the billboard has two sides. On which side was Dylan’s message? The sign is very far away from the main street. The north side faces the church parking lot. You could drive past it several times without noticing it. The south side is even worse. It faces mainly the roof of the child care center. To see it from the street, you have to be very far away. The south side can only be seen closely from the child care center parking lot, and it is greatly obscured by trees.

    It’s a very low value location for advertising anything. Wherever the billboard company relocates Dylan’s message, it’s likely to be a better site.

  • The Thinker

    I think the Church had every right to have a sign that went against there core beliefs removed from their personal property. How would you like someone putting a sign promoting Christianity on your personal property? Obviously, the advertising company messed up. But, the Church said move it and the advertising company will find an alternate site. No refund is necessary. God bless this Church for standing up for their beliefs in a world that trashes the things of God.

  • HG131

    No refund is necessary? Really? They got paid for a service they didn’t provide. For someone called “The Thinker” you aren’t exactly using your brain.

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