CENTRAL POINT, Ore. — Representatives of a group seeking a billboard response to an Oregon sign proclaiming, “The pope is the Antichrist,” are blasting a perceived double standard, saying they are being ignored by the company whose billboard displays the message.

In the wake of WorldNetDaily’s story about the controversial advertisement, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says it’s been trying to contact Outdoor Media Dimensions to post a rebuttal, but has yet to receive a call back.

“The Catholic League is prepared to pay for a billboard along Interstate 5 near Medford that reads, ‘Outdoor Media Dimensions Sponsors Anti-Catholicism,'” writes Catholic League President William Donohue on the group’s website. “If free speech is their god, they’ll go for it. But the fact that they won’t even entertain our offer tells us everything.”

The billboard sparking the dispute reads, “The POPE Is The ANTICHRIST, Free Proof,” and provides a website address for more information. Its display has resulted in some people taking offense, others supporting the statement and still others debating the limits of the First Amendment.

Billboard along I-5 in southern Oregon sparking outrage among Catholics.

“Nobody here believes that [about the pope],” said Steve Croft, a salesman for Outdoor Media Dimensions. “Just because we have an ad for George W. Bush for president doesn’t mean we endorse him.”

Croft told WorldNetDaily an ironclad, year-long contract requires display of the pope billboard until next May, but he’s unsure if any decision had been reached regarding future renewal.

The message is sponsored by Larry Weathers, a 50-year-old barber from Talent, Ore., who has no intentions of taking down the sign despite a rash of recent death threats. The publication Catholic Sentinel and the Archdiocese of Portland have urged him to remove the message.

“I don’t believe there’s anything they can do to hinder this work,” said Weathers, whose site has been inundated since WND’s original report. “This is not my fight; this is God’s battle – it began 6,000 years ago.”

Patrick Scully, director of communications for the Catholic League, feels Croft is being evasive by not responding to his group’s request for a competing billboard and is censoring the group by not returning at least a week’s worth of calls.

“He didn’t have the guts to come to the phone. I was told, ‘There’s no need to slander,'” Scully said, describing how a woman taking office messages hung up on him after he mentioned the alternative message he’s seeking to display.

The New York-based Catholic League represents approximately 350,000 members of the Roman Catholic Church.

When asked about the League’s request for a rebuttal billboard, Croft told WorldNetDaily his company doesn’t just post sourceless accusations. The only way he thinks ownership may approve of it would be to include a reference to the sign’s sponsor, just as the current billboard has a website address.

“It’s like a commercial disclaimer on the radio or an infomercial on TV,” said Croft, who mentioned the company’s owners have sole discretion on which signs are approved.

He says there are still two spaces available for new messages in southern Oregon, pending ownership approval.

Company attorney Alan Herson would not disclose the names of the company’s owners, but he did say the chief executive officer is Alex Kim of Seattle.

The Catholic League is willing to display its name and logo on any message it posts, according to Scully, who chastises OMD for its handling of the matter.

“They claim they’re for free speech,” Scully told WND, “but as the media is putting heat on them, these free-speech champions are only for it when their best interests are involved.”

Scully again called OMD yesterday to reiterate the offer – including any needed disclaimer – and was told Croft wasn’t available. Croft says he returned the call, but Scully was already gone for the day.

Meantime, the original billboard is gaining the attention of national TV networks. “The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel is preparing an upcoming segment on the controversy.

Matters of free speech and alleged bigotry are likely to be discussed on the program, says Weathers, who insists he’s acting out of concern for Catholics and is not trying to spread hate or bigotry.

Weathers is part of a small group of 40 people calling itself The Rogue Valley Historic Seventh-day Adventists (a splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventist Church), and he insists identifying the pope as the Antichrist is not a new concept.

“For the last 15 decades, it’s been the message of countless millions of Seventh-day Adventists,” Weathers claims. “[The papal office has been] a worldwide deception for roughly 1,700 years – a fraud on every generation.”

The national leadership of Seventh-day Adventists has backed off anti-papal rhetoric in recent years, and Weathers attributes that to a global ecumenical movement involving the Catholic Church.

“Anti-Catholic bigotry has been around for years,” stated Scully. “We don’t expect it to go away.”

Weathers says he’s also gotten wind of a possible slander suit in the works regarding the Antichrist message, but he’s not about to flinch.

“The highlight of my life would be to prove this in court,” he said.

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