Geno' Worship Rankles Church
Business Owner Ordered To Remove His Sign

October 24, 2002
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer

EAST HARTFORD -- The message, in big blue letters in a Main Street repair shop, is unusually direct: "GENO IS GOD."

Ken Bernacky put the sign in the window of his store, Stereo Surgeons, seven months ago as a tribute to Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team.

But members of the church across the street see the sign as blasphemy.

Now the town is demanding that Bernacky remove the sign by the close of business today. They say it violates local zoning regulations because it celebrates an event that has passed more than 60 days ago, namely, UConn's national championship.

Bernacky says the demand is censorship, violating his right to adore a sports team the way he sees fit.

"Maybe I do worship someone or something called Geno and he is my God," Bernacky said.

Bernacky said he has posted the sign each season for several years. It goes up during "tournament time," he says, and usually stays until summer. But this year, given the national title, he felt it might be nice to leave it up a little longer.

Shirley Finney, administrator at St. John's Episcopal Church across the street, told Bernacky last spring that she disapproved of his message.

"God is God," Finney said Wednesday. "God is not Santa Claus and God is not Geno."

But Bernacky kept the sign up.

During Easter, several church members e-mailed the mayor's office saying the sign was blasphemous, said Mayor Timothy Larson.

But Bernacky kept the sign up.

This month, Larson paid a friendly visit to the store and suggested that the sign come down.

But Bernacky kept the sign up.

So last week a zoning inspector came to have a look and found that it violated town sign laws. The town sent Bernacky an official order to remove the sign or face a $25 per day fine.

Bernacky says the enforcement is arbitrary, pointing out that an accompanying sign in his shop window that reads "We love UConn women basketball" is allowed to stay.

Teresa Younger, head of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, said the matter could be an infringement of Bernacky's First Amendment rights. "It's something that could be debatable," she said.

Ken Bernacky  Kenneth Bernacky  Stereo Surgeons  Stereo Surgeons, Inc  Stereo Surgeons, Inc.  Arff Bernacky  Stereo Surgeons Inc  Stereo Surgeons Inc.