Sarah Childs decided to give her neighbors a bird that wasn’t mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The neighbors, for some reason, weren’t charmed, and in response to their complaints, police ordered Sarah to turn off the lights.
But U.S. District Judge James Brady granted Childs’ request for a temporary restraining order blocking the City of Denham Springs in Louisiana from interfering with her vulgar Christmas display on the roof of her house, giving a large, bright, middle finger to everyone within sight. Marjorie R. Esman, the Executive Director of ACLU of Louisiana rejoiced, “This is a victory for the First Amendment and for the rule of law. We are gratified that Ms. Childs can express herself as the law permits without further risk of interference by the police.”
Yup, the First Amendment allows Sarah Childs to be an uncivil and intentionally offensive jerk, and to flip off her neighborhood with a Christmas flair. “Peace on Earth, and Up Yours! ” A better example of how conduct can be legal, Constitutionally protected, and completely, utterly, wrong would be hard to find. Apparently Childs was angry at her neighbors over an ongoing dispute, and this was her kind, polite, classy, Christmas-y way of handling the situation.
It is times like these that one really, really wishes there was a Santa Claus, so he could leave something appropriately disgusting in a deserving stocking.
Pointer, Graphic: Volokh Conspiracy
Facts: Louisiana ACLU 1, Louisiana ACLU 2
26 thoughts on “Bad Neighbor, Uncivil Citizen and Christmas Jerk, But Sarah Childs Knows Her Rights!”
Sorry, Jack, but I don’t agree that this flake had the 1st Amendment on her side. The purpose of the Amendment is free speech for the political discourse and access to information necessary for the exercise of the franchise. What this Childs woman was doing was the equivalent of cursing in public and inciting violence. She posted an obscenity as though it was a Christmas sign in full public view of any passer-by, including children. She should have been charged with public lewdity and tossed in the slammer until after New Year.
Sorry Steve, while I totally agree that this is offensive and inappropriate speech, It is political in the sense that it involved public debate over whatever dispute she was having with her neighbors. It then escalated into a First Amendment debate. Like Piers Morgan’s diatribe against the NRA rep, it was immature and intellectually lazy, but since it was on private property, not inciting to violence, and not misrepresenting any fact that would cause harm; it was protected. Much the same as being ordered to remove an offensive bumper sticker from your car.
It’s art. It’s expression. Volokh, correctly, I’d say, agrees that it isn’t “fighting words,” because nobody’s going to punch her house in the nose. A finger isn’t lewd. I finger is symbolic to some people of a lewd expression. To the Bronze Era Greeks, that gesture meant that you were flipping off the patriarchy.
Sorry, guys, but I can’t agree. This was clearly an obscenity, not a legitimate public expression of opinion. People don’t deserve to have an FYU shoved in their faces (at Christmas or at any time) up in bright lights. Jack: A display like that IS a matter of fighting words. It’s even worse than an obscene bumper sticker. For example, it’s legitimate political expression to display a logo like “Impeach Obama” or “Audit Romney”. But when your prefix is the “F” word, it crosses the line. If I owned a house in that neighborhood and, particularly, had young children, I wouldn’t punch the house in the nose. I wouldn’t punch her in the nose, either. Her husband, however, would be fair game.
Obscenities and vulgarities on one’s own property are generally protected. I don’t think its right, civil, neighborly or defensible ethically. I just agree that it’s protected.
At what point does reasonable infringement on other’s lives come into effect?
I can and do call the police when my neighbor’s party goes into the wee morning hours with no reduction in noise while my family tries to sleep. (of course after personally confronting them).
Does this protection of license allow SMP and his wife to engage in marital behavior on their front lawn?
The answer to the second question is almost certainly no. That’s conduct, not speech, and indecent public behavior is prohibited in most communities. Similarly, a noisy party is possibly a legal infraction, and noise, as opposed to speech, can be regulated. Remember that we are talking ethics here. Childs’ conduct is just as unethical, whether its legal or not. But it would be hard to identify tangible harm arising from her obnoxious display.
I don’t see your conduct distinction. Having sex is a form of expression. For instance, It could be used to say that AIDs doesn’t exist, or that sex shouldn’t be considered obscene.
I see two differences between putting up lights to look like the middle finger and having sex on your front yard. The first difference is silly “obscenity laws” that actually do ban the latter practice. The second is simply the degree that we think things are bad, and the amount we have retreated from our silliness. The middle finger is something that kids are likely to see and understand by the time they’re forming memories. In our society, sex is not.
I’ll concede that a sex act might be a form of expression, but I very much doubt that a horny couple fornicating on their lawn would have any luck with that argument. The finger is and has always been communication, and expression. Have you seen this?
I agree completely with everything you said. So, new difference, the finger has always been speech and is pretty much only used for speech. Sex only could be speech.
I hadn’t seen that, but I’m glad it exists.
I’m not married, Michael- so we’ll never know!
snip – A better example of how conduct can be legal, Constitutionally protected, and completely, utterly, wrong would be hard to find.
Really? How about the 2nd Amendment?
Owning guns is “utterly wrong”? An asinine and unsupportable comment. Shooting people is wrong—also illegal and not protected by the Constitution. I’m trying to decide whether this comment is a cheap shot, trolling, or just plain stupid. Thoughts?
I felt like destroying every flaw in his analogy. Then I decided most readers are intelligent enough to see.
He’s just a troll. Likely not having any serious ability to debate the topic, which is why I don’t think he even realized there are, 2-4 posts already in the past month or two addressing the firearm debate.
You showed admirable restraint. The statement indeed flags itself, though a disturbing number of knee-jerk gun opponents would agree with him before it occurred to them that this makes them seem like morons.
Ladies and gentlemen! I bring you the most idiotic showing known to man. We have encapsulated here in our horror house the one named Ray. So come one. Come all. Come down to the circus horror show.
Makes me sad. The previous “Ray” who commented here was a sheriff, a philosopher, and a valued contributor. This is like watching the end of Flowers for Algernon.”
You prefer to lie to yourselves and I’m the moron? 2nd Amendment is obsolete. It’s not 1790 anymore.
Yes, Ray, you’re the moron! Your last sentence is confirmation. That’s bumper-sticker reasoning if I ever saw it. It would apply to the entire Bill of Rights, you know. And every law ever passed—see the Voting Rights Act: “It’s not 1964 any more!” Outlawing child labor: “It’s not 1938 any more!” People who seriously argue like this are indeed known as “morons.” If you aren’t one, use actual arguments.
No, it’s not 1790. But it’ll be a belated 1984 if guys like Ray take charge. Oh, I forgot. They have.
To be fair, someone re-posted my article on NEWSER, and someone responded with this:
“snip – A better example of how conduct can be legal, Constitutionally protected, and completely, utterly, wrong would be hard to find. Really? You can easily find a better example with the very next Amendment to the Constitution.”
So Ray has company in his foolishness. Or that commenter WAS Ray…
1st Amendment is just as Obsolete at the 2nd according to that fallacy.
I don’t want to have to post another history/civics essay; they get tiring.
I think a case can be made that it’s an ethical cause to try to COMPLETELY rid the world of guns. Limiting civilian gun ownership doesn’t do that.
For what purpose?
That would require admitting that hunting is an unethical act.
I see where you are going with this, but it still fails in that it targets an inanimate object as a source of society’s ills.
Limiting the ability for bad people to do great harm. They still could, but it would be harder. If you’re only removing some guns, then it’s a horrible idea, as it makes it easier for the people still with guns to do horrible things to people. The idealist in me supports universal disarmament. The realist in me doesn’t, but likes that the idealist does.
I’d also say that hunting for sport is completely unethical. Hunting for food is a gray area, and I freely admit to being a possible hypocrite here. I like meat, and I refuse to give it up, but I can’t really reconcile that with my other beliefs.
Disarmament doesn’t target inanimate object as a source of the ills. Guns don’t kill people on their own, they just make it easier for bad (and mistaken) people to do so.
That answers a lot.