Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist DallasEXPAND
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas
Gage Skidmore

First Baptist Billboards to Multiply Like Loaves and Fishes

Score this round for First Baptist Dallas. Big.

Less than a week after seeing two billboards celebrating the title of pastor Robert Jeffress' "Freedom Sunday" sermon — "America Is a Christian Nation" — taken down by New York City-based Outfront Media, the church is putting up 10 times as many billboards promoting the event throughout North Texas, thanks to an agreement with Clear Channel Outdoor.

Over the past couple of days, Jeffress, along with the conservative and religious media, blamed The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings for the billboards coming down. In a June 7 piece by city columnist Robert Wilonsky, the mayor criticized the message of the billboard.

"That is not the Christ I follow," Rawlings said. "It's not the Dallas I want to be — to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words, that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine."

To Jeffress, Rawlings' statement helped pave the way for Outfront Media's decision to take down the billboards, making it tantamount to an unconstitutional government restriction on religious speech. That's not exactly what happened.

According to Outfront Media, the company made the decision to remove the billboards after receiving angry messages about the signage from people in Dallas. It wasn't the mayor's comments that led to the billboards being removed, according to the company, but a wide-ranging negative reaction.

Among those opposed to the billboards was longtime photographer and First Amendment activist Avi Adelman, who threatened the company and anyone who advertised with it with a boycott if signs remained up because he viewed them as being both historically incorrect and offensive to those Americans who aren't Christians.

Normally, billboards viewed as being potentially controversial or offensive are sent from Outfront Media's local offices to New York for corporate review. In this case, that didn't happen, according to Outfront, because the Dallas company representative who approved the sign didn't find it potentially controversial or offensive. 

Jeffress told the Observer on Monday that he believed the controversy over the billboards could end up being a good thing for his church. He confirmed Tuesday that Clear Channel — which did not return calls and emails to both its corporate and DFW offices Tuesday — agreed to rent the 20 billboards to the church.

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