I have mixed feelings about this.
So there’s this guy in Bowling Green, KY named Jimmy Hartson who owns a farm right by the highway. It’s his farm. His property. And since it’s his land, he puts up huge signs professing his faith, and he’s convinced some of his neighbors to do so as well:
For years, Harston has sought out places for billboards on the private property of landowners who, like Harston, wanted to express their Christian beliefs. The signs, which can be seen from the interstate, bear content such as parts of the Ten Commandments, “Hell is Real,” “If You Died Today Where Would You Spend Eternity?” and “Jesus Saves.”
“I put these up for the people who wants them on their property. They want the signs on their property,” he said. “The Lord put this on me … to do, and it’s not easy to do … and I don’t think I put up as many as I should.”
Harston has met opposition over the billboards. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Department of Highways in 2008 sued to have his signs along Interstate 65 taken down. Harston lost the initial court cases, but appeals are pending.
“I felt bad,” Harston said. “I didn’t want the attention, the litigation. It’s hard enough to put up signs without fighting the state.”
Here’s what I think.
Ultimately, it’s his property. I firmly defend the idea that I should have the right to put anything I want on my own property, provided I’m not hurting anyone, of course. (And I’m completely ignoring the Federal Beautification Act of 1965 here, because it’s a stupid law that shouldn’t exist.)
There’s no reason this man shouldn’t have that same right in this case. The signs might be annoying to some people, but they’re not causing anyone any real harm. If you don’t want that sign there, you can simply buy his property and take it down. It’s kind of a libertarian no-brainer.
So this guy is wrong, but he’s right. If that even makes sense.
My problem is this: what would happen if I were the one who owned this plot of Kentucky property, and instead of the signs saying Hell is Real, they said God is imaginary. Or Jesus is dead. Do you really think the same people that would defend this man’s right to do with his property what he wishes would defend me for the same reason?
I highly doubt it. Just look at all the people that come out of the woodwork to condemn unobtrusive atheist bus ads. They don’t seem to complain if the advertising space is used for church ads or bible colleges.
So I’m in the awkward position of defending a man I don’t agree with, knowing full well that he probably wouldn’t defend me if I did the exact same thing.
I don’t know whether to consider it a position of integrity or naiveté.