Energy Costs, Red Tape Cause UK’s Biggest House Display to Go Dark

Bernard and Denise Lumsden have decided to stop a 20-year tradition of covering their house in decorations – featuring some 50,000 bulbs – because they can no longer afford it.

The pair, from Brislington, Bristol, last year had a £1,200 electricity bill – double the cost of the previous year.

And rising energy prices would likely have seen the cost skyrocket further this year.

The couple also have to pay more than £300 to make sure their grotto-like semi is safe for the public.

So despite the display raising £15,000 for children’s charities, Mr Lumsden, 58, is now selling his collection of lights, decorations and accessories.

Their house is turned into a grotto

The father-of-three, a retired lorry driver, said: “We are both so sad and choked up about it. Just talking about it is upsetting.

“We are going to miss seeing the big smiling faces on the children and the mums, dads and their grandparents.

“Three generations have been coming to see your lights and it’s going to be very weird not having them around.

“With all the electricity costs, the red tape we have decided to stop. Npower looked into our bill and we had to tell them that it was the light display.”

In 2006, the Lumsdens’ home in Savoy Road was crowned the best decorated house in the country, after a vote on national television.

In its heyday the place was adorned inside and out with dazzling lights and decorations.

Colorado Springs Debates Christmas Debates

It’s 77 days until Christmas – a time of year when some teachers get a little nervous about what they can or can’t do in the classroom:

Is it OK for the choir to sing “Silent Night?” Can they wear sweatshirts with Santa on them? Can they put up a tree in the classroom?

To help them tiptoe through the holly without legal folly, Falcon School District 49’s school board is considering a revision to the district’s Commitment to Religious Neutrality policy.

The revised policy would require the school district’s attorneys each fall to research case law, judicial interpretations of new laws or resolutions, and other legal matters on religious expression and federal holiday observances in schools. In turn, district officials would provide guidelines to teachers and other staff in September.

The board will vote on the proposal Thursday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting in the administration building at 10850 East Woodmen Rd.

Board member Mark Shook, who presented the resolution during a recent board work session, thinks such information will help teachers “not be intimidated by misinformation,” and be able to plan events without worry.

“There is a lot of rumor and incorrect information floating around out there all the time, and this should clear that up,” Shook said.

The change is not geared to putting an end to school celebrations, but to ensure that the constitutional rights of staff and students to observe celebrations aren’t denied, he said.
Board member Kent Clawson said the policy would largely protect teachers.

“Every year there are questions from teachers who want to do some holiday project. This would give them guidance.”

But it is not without some controversy – especially because the wording refers specifically to Christmas.

Kelly Jo Salling-Davies, whose daughter attends elementary school in the district, attended the work session where the change was proposed. The district’s religion neutrality regulation already addresses such questions, she said. It states that it’s permissible to teach the history of religion, comparative religion and religious influences in art, music, literature and social studies.

“My concern is why tack on a paragraph that deals only with Christmas. Doesn’t that promote Christmas?”

She sent an e-mail to the board suggesting that if they amend the regulation, it should be done in a neutral way so it isn’t subject to a legal challenge. To do that, she believes the policy should refer to the “religious holidays,” not “Christmas holidays.”

Shook said the resolution specifies Christmas because it’s the holiday that brings on questions always arise. He said there will probably be discussion of that issue during the meeting. “But I don’t think we need to mention every holiday. There is no reason to write ‘War and Peace’ on this.”

Another D-49 decision involving Christmas met with controversy two years ago. At that time, Falcon’s school board voted to use the term “Christmas break” instead of winter break on its school calendar.

“Changing the name of our break was heated and emotional,” Shook says. “So we know people care about this issue.”

Oklahoma City Wants a Jesus Statue

A decade ago, the city of Edmond was forced to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees after losing a court battle to keep a cross on its city seal.

Just last year, a city art commission backed down from a decision to use public funds on a statue of Moses at Edmond’s First Christian Church.

Now, the same commission in this conservative suburb north of Oklahoma City is moving full speed ahead with plans to use public funds to erect a statue of Jesus Christ on a city sidewalk in front of a downtown business just in time for Christmas.

“This is the third major unconstitutional effort they’ve engaged in in recent years,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “It’s a little surprising, because normally people pause to take a breath before they violate the constitution again.”

The Edmond Visual Arts Commission last month approved spending $3,900 in city funds to help pay for the 26-inch-tall bronze statue of Jesus surrounded by three children. Titled “Come Unto Me,” the sculpture will be placed in front of Sacred Heart Catholic Gifts, a downtown shop.

“I don’t see a problem with it. I’m not a church,” said shop owner Karen Morton, who privately raised the other $3,900 before seeking matching funds from the commission. “I’ve had absolutely no negative calls or anyone coming into the store with negative comments.”

June Cartwright, the chair of the commission who supported funding the statue, defended the decision and said the sculpture was viewed simply as a piece of art and not a religious endorsement.

“It is a piece of artwork,” Cartwright said. “It doesn’t state that it is specifically Jesus. It is whatever you perceive it to be.”

A message left Tuesday with the artist, Rosalind Cook, was not immediately returned, but her Web site describes the image as depicting Jesus with three young children.

Lynn said using public funds on the project is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“You cannot promote what is obviously a very specific religious image using tax dollars,” Lynn said. “The city lawyers should have stopped this. This isn’t even close to the line. This is way over it.”

Edmond’s city attorney, Stephen Murdock, responded: “I think there are differences of opinions regarding that issue.”

Murdock declined to say what his recommendations were to the commission.

Michael Salem, the Norman attorney who successfully challenged Edmond on its use of a cross on the city seal, said the issue is more one of fairness than being anti-religion.

“It’s a slippery slope that the city wanders into when it does this,” Salem said. “Once they have set down that path, this means that if an application is made by some other group that wants to put some kind of religious object up in front of their business, then the city could be obligated or required to pay for it also.”

Green Bay Wins Nativity Lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against the City of Green Bay. Liberty Counsel successfully represented the City of Green Bay in a controversy over last year’s Christmas display with a Nativity scene at City Hall. On September 15, David Corry, Senior Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel, argued the case on behalf of the city.

FFRF did not file suit until after Christmas, once the Nativity had already been removed. Judge William Griesbach dismissed the FFRF’s case, stating that the group does not have standing to bring the claims, which he described as “so fleeting and slight that they do not warrant pursuing in federal court.” Judge Griesbach also noted that there is “a strong incentive for budget-conscious local governments to accede to demands from groups like the plaintiffs that government buildings and other property be cleansed of all signs and symbols of the country’s religious heritage.” In this case, the city refused to be intimidated by FFRF and requested that Liberty Counsel defend the city in the lawsuit.

FFRF uses intimidation and threats of attorney’s fees against local communities who take any action that might acknowledge religion. Its co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, in a threatening letter to an Ohio town, derogatively referred to its Nativity as a “shack” and derisively wrote that the display “jarred” the conscience. The organization also unashamedly unveiled its “Imagine No Religion” billboards at Christmastime. FFRF is the most extreme, anti-religious, separationist organization in the country, claiming that its members are atheists and agnostics.

The United States Supreme Court has upheld government-sponsored Nativity scenes when displayed in the context of other symbols of the Christmas holiday, such as Santa Claus, a reindeer, or a Christmas tree. The City of Green Bay displayed all those elements and even included wreaths with ribbon and lit candles.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, stated, “The federal court gave the City of Green Bay an early Christmas present. Freedom From Religion Foundation is a radical organization that seeks to cleanse religion from America. The fact is that America has a rich religious history, and Nativity scene displays are consistently constitutional.”

Save Christmas Group Admits Folly, Quits

“It’s hopeless to try to work against business interests which set new records with each Christmas season,” says Birger Sivertsen in the campaign “Gi oss Julen tilbake” (Give us back Christmas), based in Norway.

He admits that the battle is lost.

“We’ve lobbied against the worst firms and our members have taken part in massive e-mail campaigns, but to no avail,” says Sivertsen.

More than 30,000 people have signed the campaigns petition since the autumn of 2002. The list of signatures was handed to Handel og Servicenæringens Hovedorganisasjon, the confederation of shop owners.

“Looking back, we can see that our work has been a complete waste of time. Shop owners don’t care if the great majority of people don’t want to have massive Christmas celebrations forced on them from the end of September. They don’t care if they take the pleasure, the expectation and the excitement out of the greatest holiday of the year, by turning it into a gruelling three-month celebration,” says Sivertsen to news bureau NTB.

He still thinks that the campaign has achieved a lot to the extent that it has started a debate about the issue and by involving young people. Nevertheless, the campaigners are giving up. The shop owners can start Christmas whenever they like without fear of criticism.