Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Faith Works 5-19-07
Jeff Gill

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Does your church have a “no smoking” sign?

No, not the yellowing old hand drawn one on a shirt carboard made thirty years ago that’s taped to the back of the downstairs bathroom door.

I mean the “official” ones by the entrances that tell you what number to call if you find unauthorized smoking in progress.

Somewhere here in the last few years there was a major infiltration of the Statehouse legislators by the powerful, implacable “Sign Makers” lobby. We got a concealed carry law, which allows law abiding citizens to carry shoulder holstered weapons about inobtrusively. They ask you if you’re planning any criminal acts and if you’re crossing your fingers while you answer, and you fill out a dozen forms and then you are licensed for “concealed carry.”

Which was meant to get some balance through making the law inactive if you have a certain size, type, and design of sign at the entrance of your building.

Many businesses chose to put up an “uh-huh, sorry bud, not in here” sign, while many did not, whether they really wanted handguns waved about in a robbery or not. Most retail establishments have, as the centerpiece of their training for armed robbery, the principle “give it to ‘em, and ask if they want fries with that.” You could probably get fired for shooting a patron, even if they drew down on you first.

So that’s business, but then there’s other offices, like not-for-profits who serve the public directly.

I’m part of a service agency board that has long had a no booze, no drugs, no weapons policy built into our service program that all participants understand and sign. Apparently, the law didn’t take such common-sensical approaches into consideration, and we were told that if we didn’t a) vote to exclude concealed weapons, and b) put up the canonical signage to say so, we might not have the right to just tell them.

We voted and signed, like good citizens.

And churches?

Well, I’ve seen quite a few churches with the red circle, handgun, and red slash ornamenting their front entrances. I’ve also seen quite a few without such signs, most where I doubt packing heat is part of the approved vestment for Sunday worship. Maybe they assume that since they preach peace and affirm non-violence they don’t need lame graphics to make the point, nor would they sue a member who chose to take advantage of the absence of a sign to carry a blunderbuss under their choir robes some Sunday.

The fact is, tho’, that if a gun related crime takes place in a church where no vote or signage went into effect, there could be no charges related to their concealed weapon per se. Should we worry about that?

More problematic is the growing impetus behind that ominous word “fairness” when it comes to churches as “public space” and the state smoking ordinance. Will churches be required to put tacky plastic panels with bright red logos (which, by the by, inevitably fade over time, looking even more tacky, and maybe leaving a distinct gun in black but the faint memory of the slash), with the creepy “call this number to report smoking” tagline?

“Call this number” to report animal abuse, school threats, child neglect even, but a central state number to report smoking?

Did I mention that I don’t smoke, dislike being around lit cigarettes intensely, and wish people wouldn’t smoke right next to doors I’m going through?

In Great Britain, there is debate in Parliament over whether or not Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and every other place of worship large and small will be required to post “no smoking inside” signs at every entrance. Y’know, like the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral, with massive Romanesque arches, Norman stonework in the arcading, and large Plexiglas placards with red circled butts of the tobacco variety bearing their heraldric slash.

For future debate in Columbus, or London, shall we discuss a “No Lawsuits Between Christians” sign, “Gossip forbidden here” banners, or just “Only Good Thoughts Welcome”? Is there a logo that affirms healthy eating, or regular exercise?

Or what about just posting the Ten Commandments at the door? That would set a comprehensive tone for what’s expected in a public space, wouldn’t it?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he did not have the foresight to invest in signmaking companies ten years ago, more’s the pity. Tell him about a sign that caught your eye at

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