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written by writer Andrew Edwards
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April 2, 2004
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Easter banner denied by ordinance

A 19-foot by 14-foot banner by Laguna artist Jeff LeFever will not be on display at the Festival of Arts.

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By Andrew Edwards, Coastline Pilot

Planning commissioners said the body did not deny permission to post a Christian banner on the Festival of Arts ground for religious reasons.

Instead, commissioners said the rejection had more to do with bureaucracy.

The banner in question is a 19-foot by 14-foot banner by Laguna artist Jeff LeFever. The artwork is meant to represent the book of Psalms, and features a large cross over the text of Psalms written in Hebrew.

Inside the cross are brightly colored clouds, which LeFever described as "rising up like sweet voices to heaven."

He said that although planning commissioners cited sign regulations in their decision, he personally doubted that the banner's Christian theme was not an issue.

"That's their spin," LeFever said.

A smaller 5-foot by 20-foot banner advertising the 6:30 a.m. Easter sunrise service organized by the Easter in Laguna committee was already approved for display. The committee had the Festival of Arts approval for the banner

The city's sign ordinance allows arts groups, like the festival, to display signs and banners, but groups are also required to have a sign plan approved by the Planning Commission. The festival has not yet had a plan approved.

Planning commissioner Bob Chapman said the decision had nothing at all to do with religious content.

"Had there been a program in place … I don't see any reason why we wouldn't approve it," Chapman said.

Without a plan, the board voted 4 to 1 to deny permission for the banner.

The dissenting vote was cast by planning commissioner Norm Grossman, since he did not want to make a decision based on bureaucratic technicalities.

"I hate to do something like this where somebody's getting hit just for paperwork," he said.

The only commissioner to address the legality of posting Christian artwork on public grounds — the Festival of Arts is on Laguna City Park land — was Anne Johnson, Grossman said.

Grossman said she is confident religious artwork cannot be posted on the festival grounds, but could not say whether the rest of the commission would agree.

"Whether or not the Planning Commission would have turned it down because of separation of church and state, I don't know," she said.