Judge orders removal of signs along I-65

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Billboards carry Biblical messages

By Ben Sheroan

A judge ordered the removal of religious signs near the Upton exit of Interstate 65 but an appeal is planned.

In what Senior Judge Geoffrey P. Morris called an “extremely interesting case,” the state Transportation Cabinet claimed the postings are in violation of billboard advertising statutes. Jimmy Harston of Allen County, who said he erected the signs at the request of two property owners, said the messages are not ads but expressions covered by Constitutional protections of free speech and religious expressions.

On opposite sides of the interstate, the signs are on property owned by Norman Cottrell in Hart County and Bill Sullivan in LaRue County.

The messages read “Hell is Real” and “If you died today where would you spend eternity?”

The state filed lawsuits in 2008 asking the courts to order the signs be removed. The cases were consolidated and summary judgment granted Feb. 16 by Judge Morris.

Citing the billboard act that is part of Kentucky’s administrative regulations, the judge ruled that the signs meet the definition of “advertising devices” cited in the law and are within a protected area which would require a permit.

The law creates a buffer zone to protect the natural beauty and prevent a proliferation of signs from becoming a distraction to motorists.

Harston said his attorney, Pat Ross of Horse Cave, is preparing an appeal and will ask for a stay of the order that the signs be removed within 60 days.

Harston said he has erected similar signs with religious messages in Tennessee, Texas and Ohio.

“This is the only place that’s given me any trouble,” he said.