‘Jesus saves’ reads the message marked out in tiles on the roof of a farmhouse in the countryside east of Rotterdam. The Dutch Council of State is unequivocal: it has to be removed.
Two years ago the local Giessenlanden council ruled that the message in massive white letters broke its rules on the appearance of buildings. The council ordered the farm’s evangelical owner, Joop van Ooijen, to remove the letters under penalty of a fine. Determined to stand up for his right to freedom of speech, Mr Van Ooijen appealed to the Council of State, which acts as an appeal court in disputes between citizens and government.
Watch Robert Chesal's February report on the 'Jesus saves' roof (article continues below):
The appeal judge has now sided with the local authority’s committee that makes the rules on building aesthetics. The massive white letters are against the rules because they spoil the view. And the council is quite within its rights to enforce its rules on “extravagance in the appearance” of buildings.
The local council has always asserted that Mr Van Ooijen’s message had nothing to do with their decision. In fact, the local coalition includes executives from the Christian Democrats and the orthodox protestant SGP party. “Mr Van Ooijen knows very well that the content has nothing to do with it,” Mayor Els Boot told Dutch daily de Volkskrant. “There are two Christian parties in our executive. A lot of people here embrace the content of the text.”
The appeal court also stressed that the ruling had nothing to do with the content of Mr Van Ooijen’s message, but just its appearance. What’s more, they suggested he’d be welcome to keep the text as long as it was in a less striking colour or smaller letters.
However, according to Mr Van Ooijen’s lawyer, the local council’s aesthetics committee would only be happy if the letters weren’t visible from the road. And, as far as Mr Van Ooijen is concerned, that would defeat the object: he wants to spread his evangelical message and save souls: “It’s the only question in life that matters,” he told de Volkskrant.
Mr Van Ooijen has no intention of taking the latest decision lying down. He’s now determined to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. Today he can expect a letter from the local council ordering him to remove his evangelical message within six weeks. But as far as Mr Van Ooijen is concerned, ‘Jesus saves’ is here to stay.