LAS VEGAS (CN) – A Christian church pastor says Clark County officials trampled his flock’s religious freedoms by demanding that they remove a metal sign that shows the Ten Commandments to passersby. The pastor claims that submitting to virtually any county, state or federal authority “would operate as a recognition of and submission to another sovereign greater than Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Wallace E. Smith, of House of Israel Fellowship, claims that a Clark County code enforcement officer inspected the church in September 2009 and ordered two signs removed. One is a vinyl banner hanging from the building with the church’s name. The other is a sign in a metal frame that presents the Ten Commandments.
The church appealed, but a hearing officer ordered the signs be “dismantled and removed, impounded and destroyed” if the church doesn’t take action by Jan. 5, according to the complaint in Clark County Court.
Smith claims that removing the signs “would violate plaintiff/church’s instructions to keep Jesus as Lord and to publish and propagate His message to the general public.”
Smith adds that his church, a “Free Congregation of Messianic Christians,” cannot cure the issue by filing sign permit applications, “for the filing of such applications would operate as a recognition of and submission to another sovereign greater than Jesus Christ.”
Smith says his congregation isn’t incorporated, nor has it filed for tax-exempt status, because “such recognition and/or submission would constitute a recognition of another sovereign greater than Jesus Christ.”
Smith says because it isn’t incorporated, it has not “voluntarily subjected” itself to the authority of Clark County, Nevada or the federal government.
“The church … like God, is holy; its establishment, ministries, properties, internal affairs and government are not to be entangled with civil government,” the complaint states.
Along with the signage dispute, the church also says it is unfairly being taxed, and that Clark County officials wrongly denied its claim for a property tax exemption.
“The plaintiff/church cannot pay a tax of any kind, for to do so would constitute a sin against God,” Smith insists.
Smith wants a restraining order to stop officials from removing the signs. He also seeks an end to taxes, and penalties and fees relating to the violating signs.
He is represented by Charlane Bigelow Stead.