Residents win fight to keep 'God Bless America' yard signs

BARTOW, Fla. - Residents in one neighborhood are rejoicing after winning a battle to keep their "God Bless America" signs in their yards.

"The last few days have been kind of a downer for me as mayor," said Bartow, Fla. Mayor James F. Clements.

Clements told ABC Action News controversy over a yard sign that says, "God Bless America," was misconstrued and misrepresented by national media outlets.  Ultimately, this led to city leaders receiving death threats and hate mail.

Last week, about 20 residents received notes from code enforcement officers telling them to remove the signs.  They were also told if the signs were not removed they would be fined.
Under city ordinance, all temporary signs are banned.

Mayor Clements said national media failed to understand that it was never about what the sign said or religion.  He feels at least one national media outlet sensationalized the story by calling the city unpatriotic and anti-religion.

At a city commissioner's meeting Monday night, the Mayor heard from upset residents.  However, before they spoke, the Mayor told everyone in attendance the signs could stay and that the ordinance is under review and will be rewritten.

"It is a fine line and we have got to find the balance between doing nothing and locking down everything," Mayor Clements explained.

Bartow City Manager George Long also addressed those in attendance.  Long said the ordinance was written 13 years ago and needs to be updated.

He also tried deflecting any anger toward code enforcement officers by saying, the officers were only following the instructions they were given.

"We have no intention of trampling anyone's First Amendment rights," Mayor Clements said.

City leaders hope to have the ordinance rewritten by the holidays.

Meanwhile, the signs can stay and the Mayor said no one who received notices to remove those signs will be fined.

Most in attendance applauded city leaders and their plan to change the ordinance.

"I am pleased that we have commissioners that will sit on this board, good men that will do something," said resident Marvin Pittman.

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