Members of a new church in Portland who peppered the city with 450 signs announcing the church’s opening took them down Thursday, nearly three weeks after learning that the postings were illegal.

Joshua Gagnon, founding pastor of the Next Level Church, said the signs were intended to draw attention to the church’s opening Sunday at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

“Our hope was to invite the entire area,” Gagnon said. “Without the signs, I don’t think we would have had over 250 people on our first Sunday.”

In Portland, the signs were placed in high-traffic areas around USM and on Forest Avenue and Washington Avenue. In South Portland, signs were placed along Broadway, another heavily traveled road.

The signs read: “COMING 10.10.10” and “www.wearewrong.com.”

“We knew it was a good intersection when we saw a lot of political signs,” said Allen Robbins, pastor of Portland’s church, who spent much of Thursday taking the signs down. “Obviously, those guys do their homework and know where the good spots are.”

Bob Sinclair, supervisor of right-of-way control for the Maine Department of Transportation, said the church’s signs are considered advertising and violate Maine law. Sinclair said the law allows political signs to be posted six weeks before an election and taken down within one week after the election. He said the church signs are prohibited along public roads.

Sinclair said a field inspector combed the Portland area Thursday and couldn’t find any.

The Next Level Church has two other locations, in Dover and Newington, N.H. Gagnon said the church has placed signs on roads there advertising its mission. He said he didn’t know the laws in Maine before putting the signs up.

“The last thing that we want to appear as is a church that doesn’t stand for the law,” Gagnon said. “We are sorry if it upset some people in that area. It was simply our attempt at letting people know we exist.”

People in Portland noticed. So did residents in South Portland and Scarborough.

Linda Cohen, the city clerk in Portland, said an assistant city manager noticed a sign soon after it was put up. Cohen said she called Robbins on Sept. 28 and told him to take the signs down.

Cohen, who handles most complaints about political signs, said no one called to complain about the church signs.

Steve McKelvey of Scarborough said he noticed signs on Route 1 more than two weeks ago.

“I’m fully in support of the First Amendment right of freedom of religion and the establishment of churches,” he said, “but do it legally.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com