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Church suit accuses county of censorship

By Associated Press
Published October 24, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE - A church is challenging Broward County's refusal to allow a cross and sign reading "Jesus is the reason for the season" in a 2-mile holiday lights attraction at a county park.

Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming unconstitutional censorship after months of wrangling with county officials over its planned display at the Holiday Festival of Lights.

"Very clearly it's a First Amendment case," said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which defends religious freedoms. "All they're asking is just to be part of an event where hundreds of other businesses are celebrating Christmas and be able to say what they want to say within reason."

A county attorney rejected the church's message in April, but then approved both the cross and message in June. He later withdrew permission again in August. The county issued a new policy in September allowing sponsors to pick from designs offered by the county, the lawsuit said.

The annual drive-through attraction draws more than 250,000 visitors to Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek.

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