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Neon Martyr
One Man's Hero is Another's Zero

Souvenirs of the Soul

A few years back, Bob Foor did not realize how expensive his Southwest vacation would become. The gargantuan statue of Jesus that he and his wife had seen somewhere in their travels inspired him. He inscribed a note-to-self deep inside his spirit. Conversely, he especially hated to see graffiti where it had spoiled the Nation's many towns and other sites.

Pillar of the Community

One of the three-thousand plus residents of Bedford, Pennsylvania, sixty-seven year old Bob Foor had sold cars around the area, Bob Foor's Cars, mostly on a lot near the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He initially offered imported Subarus. Additionally, not too long ago, he bought an old Ford Motor Company garage in the antique historic district downtown, he uses it for his wife's tanning salon, and car storage and repair. This quaint old-time section, dating back to French and Indian War encampments of the early mid-18th century, boasts a house where our first General and President stayed the night twice, (there is a jest about every historic house boasting that "George Washington slept here") once in 1758 and 1794, and it happens to be across the street from Foor's building! The rear of Bob's edifice can be seen on Interstate 99 and the U.S. route 30 bypass, and that deep seated idea now came to the surface.

Shout It from the Rooftops

The five-man panel of the borough appointed historical review board has the task to make sure property owners in that reserved part of the downtown keep things close to the two century-old manner, (though some are only half as old.) This community was led by Manager John Montgomery. Even though there are signs on shops, they have managed to keep things subdued. Until now.

Bob Foor's first idea about a year ago was to build a large plywood sign, twenty feet by forty, facing the four-lanes of highway and Juniata River, boasting "JESUS IS LORD." He brought the architectural drawings to the authorities. The stage was being set, however, when in December, 2002 he was denied permission, the reason being that one cannot cover windows.

Pilloried in the Community

Those three windows each set high on the building were at least ten feet square, since he learned that signs had to be 'in' windows, he cinder-blocked most of it all, leaving only three with less than foot square indentations. Supposedly he had applied for permission for a neon sign at this time, which was turned down because of size and the neon. Nonetheless, he called a firm that specialized in commercial neon signs, and when John Montgomery saw the company truck on May 15th, and one installing "Jesus" in neon he promptly told them to stop and leave, which they did.

But, since this sign cost $10,000, and like he said, "It's not like I can take it back to Wal-Mart and say, 'Oh, wrong size!'" --he managed to get the signs back up three days later in the middle of the night. When John Montgomery saw what seemed to almost miraculously appear on the building, the words --"Is Lord"-- he was ticked, but not as much as what he was alerted to at 3:30 AM. A Bedford County emergency dispatcher called him (following the procedure to call concerning the unusual) to let him know that "Jesus" was flickering on and off in blazing red neon.

The next day the "Is Lord" joined with its Holy subject, but now the war was on, and these three foot by fifty-five feet (or a hundred depending on the source) letters across the building can be seen by motorists approaching the town. Losing an appeal to the board on May 28, on June 11, 2003, the Borough en toto slapped a citation on Foor charging him with three violations of code, and unless he pulls the sign down he will face a hundred (one story had a thousand) dollar-a-day fine, and possible 30 days in jail. He was given then day's notice to remove the visual impediment, and it has been at this deadline that the story has resurfaced. He said the ten thousand dollar investment was going to cost him a lot more, and was willing to go the full count.

Nazi Defenders Deny Defamation

Foor reacted with more adamant behavior, as he felt he did not do anything wrong. He believes he has blessed Bedford with his 'witness,' and the convictions to demonstrate his faith, and defend what he believes is his first and second amendment rights have been purloined.

It's something I believe. I'm very much a believer and it's something that I think needs to be there. ...You can even see it from the Bedford Bypass. In fact, I was told you can see it from an airplane flying over the borough. ...I feel they're violating my freedom of speech and my freedom to express my religion. I feel they're violating my constitutional rights. ...
A poll of the neighborhood would find intensely divided opinion, however. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), feels his Constitutional rights have not been violated as they agree with Montgomery's argument: religion has nothing to do with, the issue is merely the issue of blatantly garishly breaking of the law. Pennsylvania's executive director Lawrence Frankel declared:
Freedom of speech has time, place and manner restrictions. Unless he can demonstrate that he is being denied permission for the sign based on the content of the sign, it is not discrimination.
But, even the potential Calvary 'cavalry to the rescue' Christian Law Association have to have their lawyers pore over the case before deciding whether Foor is a Christian in this situation who is
...experiencing legal difficulty in practicing their religious faith because of governmental regulation, intrusion or prohibition.
One Christian information and discussion website, the Omega Letter, in their piece, This Story Religious Persecution in Bedford?: Or is it bad publicity for Jesus? gives the opinion that Foor was out line. They use as their NT 'proof text' Hebrews 13:17--
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you...
They refer to the story that made it to CBSNews online's "The Odd Truth," as well as WorldNet Daily, and the Pittsburgh media. The ministerium has yet to meet ecumenically to opine on this, but their Presbyterian president knows the congregations are mixed in this furor.

However, there are about sympathetic 500 folks, who do see this man as one of those "Onward Christian Soldiers," who with the help of Mennonite minister Mr. Dawson got their written support. Obviously their favorite verse is from the story of the Apostles' defiantly teaching in the temple, specifically Acts 5:27-9--

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, "did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (emphasis mine)

The Last Word

The assessment by Bob Foor, so far:

This isn't over until the fat lady sings, and she hasn't begun to sing yet, as far as I'm concerned, she hasn't even begun to clear her throat.


Sources:
http://www.omegaletter.com; Edward Mlynar, This Story Religious Persecution in Bedford? Or is it bad publicity for Jesus?
http://www.WorldNetDaily.com; FAITH UNDER FIRE Proclaiming 'Jesus is Lord' to mean jail time?
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/05/23/national/main555419.shtml
http://www.charismanews.com/online/articledisplay.pl?ArticleID=7677; "Newsbrief".
http://www.post-gazette.com/localnews, Tom Gibb.
Public Opinion, "Bedford car salesman ordered to remove religious neon sign." June 13, 2003.

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