ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – A billboard in St. Augustine Beach is drawing attention from all across the world for a message some people have called “discriminatory.”
The billboard along A1A reads “Islam Bloody Islam, Doomed by its Doctrine,” and more than 9,300 people had signed a petition by Tuesday afternoon that called on the owner to take it down.
Some St. Augustine residents even came out to the billboard in a show of opposition to the message
John Poage saw a post on Facebook about the sign and decided to stand in front of it with one of his own, reading “Locals for Tolerance.”
“It really doesn't represent what this community stands for so I wanted to get out here as soon as I could with a contrasting opinion,” said Poage. “You can tell the community is not really behind that kind of fear.”
At the shopping center across the street, News4Jax discovered he isn’t the only St. Augustine resident unhappy with the sign.
“I find that offensive. I really find that disturbing. I think that everyone has a right to practice their own religion, and I don't think that should be on a billboard or in anyone's mind or in their hearts,” said Elizabeth Smith.
County leaders responded to the opposition, but said Tuesday in a statement that the sign is legal and there's nothing they can do about it.
In response to concerns within the community, St Johns County investigated the billboard located at A1A and Seashore Avenue and determined it to be in compliance with all state and local code enforcement laws regarding signage. While its message may be offensive for some members of our community, it is protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which precludes the county from taking action."
The man whose photo posted on social media started the viral condemnation of the sign doesn't blame anyone but society for the message of hate.
"They have a right to free speech, and I think that they should be allowed to have it up," said Fond Kiser, of Jacksonville Beach. "It's just a shame, especially in 2016, that we haven't come any further than what we have."
An online petition asks St. Johns Outdoor Advertising, the company that owns the sign, to take it down.
One person from California wrote, “Disgusting, far below the dignity of a country built on freedom.”
Another from Georgia wrote, “It's no different than Nazi Germany.”
Imam Anas Benjelloun, of the Islamic Center of St. Augustine, said many were shocked because the sign didn’t reflect the St. Augustine he and other members of the Muslim community know.
And while he believes in free speech, Benjelloun said the sign could lead to violence.
“Hate speech leads to hate crimes, so yes we do have freedom of speech and anybody can post or say anything they want, but in St. Augustine, we love everyone,” said Benjelloun.
Poage hopes his efforts lead to a change.
“I love to see more people in the conversation, and I don't want to blow this out of proportion. It's just not appropriate for St. Augustine,” Poage said.
The businesses phone for St. Johns Outdoor Advertising has been disconnected, and no one answered the door when News4Jax stopped by Monday to ask for comment.