Tulsa Couple Wins Fight Over Religious Mobile Home Signage

Tuesday, September 28th 2010, 5:06 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A Tulsa couple says it does pay to fight Tulsa City Hall. They were told signs at their business violated city ordinance, but they appealed and won Tuesday. 

They say it was never about a city ordinance for them, it was about religious freedom.

The sign squabble started because the couple, who sell mobile homes, wrapped the ends of some of them with large pictures that contained a Bible verse and a picture of a family reading a Bible. 

The city didn't get complaints, but sign inspectors told the couple the signs required a permit. The city of Tulsa Board of Adjustment didn't agree.

Mobile homes need plastic around the ends to keep them protected from the weather. Over time, that plastic can rip and tear and looks pretty ugly. 

So, Mike and Brenda Harrison decided to replace it with wraps, as a way to make it more attractive and to share their Christian beliefs.

"The intent was to promote what I feel is important. I mentioned to a lot of folks that if someone saw a picture of a family reading a Bible, they might think, I want to sit down and do that," said Mike Harrison, LifeWay Mobile Homes.

City sign inspectors say the wraps were promotional business signs that draw attention to the business, so require a permit. 

The Harrisons' attorney argued the wraps don't promote the business because there's no company logo, no price, no anything about the mobile home business on them.

"It's simply a photograph promoting Mr. Harrison's belief in God, nothing else," said Brad Barron, Harrisons' Attorney.

The inspectors argued even signs promoting non-commercial items must meet size limitations. After an hour long discussion, it boiled down to an exemption in Tulsa's sign ordinance that says if it's a work of art or if it's a symbol of a religious organization, the sign doesn't need a permit and doesn't have a size limitation. 

Three of the four board members agreed the wraps fall under those exemptions. Mike says it's more than a legal victory to him.

Lori Fullbright, The News On 6: "You believe this is a victory for religious freedom?"

Mike Harrison: "I do. And I had a lot of churches praying for me, so I appreciate all that."

This means Mike can keep the signs up and put new ones up in the future, as long as there is no company logo or information. 

Mike says his belief in God became a very important part of his life about 10 years ago and he felt this was his chance to stand up for what he felt was right.