Debate continues about whether to change Roeland Park law to accommodate St. Agnes abortion awareness month display

St. Agnes Catholic Church in Roeland Park.
St. Agnes Catholic Church in Roeland Park.

By Holly Cook

The Roeland Park City Council on Tuesday continued to grapple with whether or not to amend city code to accommodate the collection of crosses and signs St. Agnes Catholic Church displays each October in recognition of abortion awareness month.

The city’s ordinance currently allows non-profit religious, educational or community service organizations to advertise for a special event by posting three signs for up to four days.

The church’s display violates current code as it lasts throughout the month of October and includes roughly 40 small white crosses, which previous city attorney Neil Shortlidge determined should be interpreted as signs under city law.

During Tuesday’s meeting, new city attorney Steve Mauer said he agreed the crosses should be interpreted as signs promoting a special event.

The proposed amendment would allow signs be placed in a land area of 500 square feet and would limit the maximum size of a single sign to 8 feet long and 4 feet high. Total sign area for the entire display could not exceed 100 square feet for single-sided signs, and 200 feet for double-sided signs.

Signs could be posted for 31 consecutive days up to four non-consecutive times per year.

Councilman Tim Janssen said he would be interested in further adjusting the code so the allowed signage space would be based on the size of the property. This would allow non-profits on a larger parcel of land to have more signage. Councilman Michael Poppa said he would like to see the ordinance include a maximum amount of cumulative days allowed for the signage.

But Councilman Michael Rhoades questioned whether the current code’s signage limitations complied with freedom of speech laws.

Mauer answered the ordinance appeared appropriate as written because it was content neutral.

Councilwoman Teresa Kelly was supportive of leaving the ordinance as is and reminded councilors that any organization can come before the council and request an exemption for special event advertising.

“I don’t know why we need to change the whole ordinance unless there has been a perpetual problem from multiple parties,” Kelly said.

Councilwoman Erin Thompson and Mayor Joel Marquardt also supported leaving the ordinance as is.

Rhoades expressed some concerns with requiring the church to request an exemption noting the political nature of the display. Rhoades commented that if the request was ever rejected by a future council it could open the city up for a potential lawsuit.

City staff indicated they would adjust the ordinance to reflect councilmembers’ feedback and bring the issue back before the council.

Thompson said she would like to see action taken on the issue the next time it comes before council. The council has been debating the issue since early December by has yet to take any action.