Constitutional Law

Federal Judge Gives La. Woman TRO re Home Rooftop Light Display Featuring Hand with Extended Finger

A federal judge in Louisiana has issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting a municipality from interfering with a resident’s holiday light display. It reportedly features at least one hand, with its middle finger extended.

The court order follows two separate incidents in which Denham Springs police allegedly ordered Sarah Childs to remove the display or face arrest, according to the Associated Press and an earlier story in the Advertiser.

Childs reportedly complied the first time she was told she would go to jail if she didn’t remove the light display. Then, after media coverage drew support from the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, she put up a new display featuring two hands. Multiple tickets reportedly followed and, when that didn’t result in Childs removing the display, a police officer again allegedly threatened her with arrest if she didn’t take it down. She did, and filed suit with the ACLU’s help.

The suit, which was filed Thursday in federal court in Louisiana, alleges violation of Childs’ constitutional right to free speech and seeks injunctive relief, damages and attorney’s fees, the Advertiser says. The controversy over the light display follows a long-running dispute between Childs and her neighbors in Denham Springs, which is near Baton Rouge.

“This case is about protecting law-abiding people from police overreaching,” Marjorie R. Esman told the newspaper. She serves as executive director of the ACLU’s chapter in Louisiana.

“In a free society, we cannot allow law enforcement to invent ways to coerce people into conforming to their neighbors’ tastes or desires,” continued Esman. “In fact the police have a duty to protect the rights of dissenters, and the City of Denham Springs has failed in that obligation to Sarah Childs.”

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