Thursday, April 17, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Judge: La. woman can flip finger in holiday lights

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana woman ran afoul of police when she gave her neighbors an unusual holiday greeting, hanging Christmas lights in the shape of a middle finger.

Sarah Childs was in a dispute with some of her neighbors in Denham Springs, just east of Baton Rouge, so she decided to send a message with her decorations. Neighbors complained and police threatened to arrest her, so she and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sued the city.

A judge ruled in her favor Thursday.

“I imagine it will be back up before too long,” ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman said of the display.

Childs erected the lights on her roof last month. She has removed them twice — once after a police officer told her she could be fined and again after another officer threatened to arrest her, her lawsuit said.

U.S. District Judge James Brady issued an order temporarily barring city officials from interfering with the display. The two-page order said the city’s “continued efforts” to prevent Childs from displaying her holiday lights will violate her rights to free speech and due process. He scheduled a Jan. 7 hearing in Baton Rouge.

Denham Springs attorney Paeton Burkett said the city will comply with Brady’s order, but she declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We’re going to sit down with everybody involved and see if there’s any merit to it,” she said.

Mayor Jimmy Durbin and Police Chief Scott Jones, who are named as defendants, didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The suit said the police department dispatched an officer to Childs’ home after several neighbors complained directly to the mayor. The officer told Childs she would be violating the city’s “obscenity statute” and could be fined if she didn’t take it down, according to the lawsuit. However, Denham Springs doesn’t have an obscenity statute, the suit said.

Childs removed the lights but put them back up after the ACLU defended her in an open letter to the city. That time, the display showed two hands with extended middle fingers.

After another round of complaints, the city responded with a “collateral attack,” issuing her two tickets, according to the suit. One accused her of obstructing the flow of traffic as she walked down the side of a street. Another ticket accused her of disturbing the peace while singing an impromptu song about her neighborhood dispute while standing in her driveway.

“Childs’ impromptu song allegedly contained some obscenities directed at her neighbors, so the city cited her for simple assault,” the suit said.

The ACLU would not say exactly what the neighborhood dispute was about, and a no one answered at a telephone listing for Childs.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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