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Va. church's electronic sign sparks federal lawsuit

Tuesday - 8/28/2012, 3:40pm  ET

churchsign320.jpg
Fairfax County recently cited the the United Methodist Church on Hunter Mill road in Oakton for showing more than three messages on the electronic sign within 24 hours which is against county policy. (WTOP/Hank SIlverberg)

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

OAKTON, Va. - A sign in front of a Virginia church has become a federal case with the first amendment as the focus.

The electronic sign is in front of the United Methodist Church on Hunter Mill road in Oakton in Fairfax County. It was put up with the proper permits.

But Fairfax County recently cited the church for showing more than three messages on the electronic sign within 24 hours which is against county policy.

That citation led to a federal lawsuit filed by the church.

The messages were not controversial.

All three were posted on July 3, one announcing the next service, another one promoting the church's website and a third one inviting local residents, many of whom were without power because of the Derecho which had moved through that week, to come into the church and get out of the heat.

It's not clear why the county even came to the church.

Dan Butler, who says he was a founding member of the church thinks the whole thing is absurd.

"That sounds like snooty Oakton neighbors at their best," he says of the citation.

At the nearby Oakton Shopping center Chris Kuzak was unlocking his bike. When told about the dispute he laughed.

"Why are they bothering with that. That's really silly," he says.

Mike York, the lawyer representing the church didn't want to talk about the specifics of the case, which he says will go to court in Alexandria in September. He did say it's a first amendment case, both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald says the county doesn't comment on pending litigation.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)