When Christ Cathedral Church in Columbus, Ohio had an atheist billboard removed from its property back in June, it thought it had heard the last from the billboard’s sponsor, the so-called Freedom From Religion Foundation.
But the atheist organization, based in Madison, Wisc., found another way to attack the church. It sicked the Franklin County, Ohio Auditor’s Office on Christ Cathedral, claiming that the church was required to pay property taxes on the land on which the billboard stood, because it was used for commercial purposes.
Although it would seem that the out-of-state organization would have no legal standing to bring a tax claim against the Ohio church, Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo sided with the atheists.
So Christ Cathedral Church now finds itself liable for roughly $20,000 in commercial property taxes, as FFRF gloats on its website. On its Facebook page, the church informed its congregation it had been targeted by “Satan and his imps.”
FFRF denies that the property owned by Christ Cathedral was specifically chosen as one of seven locations for a billboard campaign promoting atheism (notwithstanding that FFRF had its choice of well more than 100 billboards in Columbus leased by Clear Channel Outdoor).
The billboard featured the smiling image of a local college student proclaiming the atheist message: “I can be good without God.” It seemed more than coincidental to some that the pictured atheist student was black, just like Christ Cathedral’s pastor.
That suggested to some that FFRF is taking its crusade against religion – which heretofore has concentrated on the white evangelical community – to the black church.
Whether that is the case or not did not matter to the Rev. Waymon Malone, Christ Cathedral’s pastor. He simply ordered the offending billboard removed from church property. Clean Channel Outdoor complied within a matter of days, reposting the billboard at another location.
Meanwhile, the account executive who worked with FFRF to find locations for the atheist organization’s billboard says he had no idea that one of those selected was on church property.
It was “an unfortunate oversight” by Clear Channel, said Jay Schmidt, account executive for Matrix Media Services, who handled the atheist organization’s billboard buy.
FFRF insists that it, rather than Christ Cathedral Church, is the wronged party in the billboard controversy.
“The action of this censorious church,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, “shows exactly why our campaign, intended to encourage social acceptance of nonbelievers, is so important.”