Lewiston, Maine Lighting Controversy Gets Heated

City leaders will need at least one more meeting to figure out how to balance the rights of two Vista Drive residents to put on a popular Christmastime light show with their neighbors’ rights to come and go.

Councilors were not close to settling on a way to regulate traffic brought on each December by the popular holiday display.

Neighbors urged councilors to act and put some limits on the display, saying the nightly light show draws so many people to their cul-de-sac it shut the street down.

“They have every right to put on this display,” said Jeff Harmon of 34 Vista Dr. “None of the neighbors dispute that. But we have a right to come and go in a reasonable manner.”

Harmon said he’s has sat in his driveway for up to an hour waiting for cars to clear out and let him leave.

“It’s not reasonable for me to have to wait an hour for people to leave, or to wait for the police to come and clear them away,” Harmon said.

But Jamie Loggins of 60 Vista Drive said this issue is one of free speech. He and neighbor Steven Bang have been hosting the displays, with Christmas lights timed to music, on their front yards since 2006.

“You have a right to burn a flag, and you have a right to be mad about burning a flag,” Loggins said. “But I’m sorry, your right to be angry doesn’t supersede my right to burn the flag.”

The shows have proven extremely popular, drawing 1,000 to the street each December. Bang said the two are planning to present a show this year, as well.

The shows haven’t been without complaints, however. The traffic drawn to the lights regularly shuts down Park Avenue and make it difficult for Loggins’ and Bang’s neighbors to get to their homes. Police have responded to 20 complaints made by neighbors, ranging from noise to public urination.

Councilors discussed regulating the displays in June, considering regulating the display as some sort of public business. After that meeting, Councilor Robert Hayes and police Chief Phil Crowell began meeting with neighbors. They had met several times over the summer, settling on a plan to amend the city’s traffic policy.

That would have required organizers of any event expected to draw crowds to file a plan with the police chief, and would also have required organizers to pay for traffic control. Bang said estimates put those costs at $5,000 — too pricey for him.

Councilors objected because they thought the changes were too broad and could be made to shut down any event — from a birthday party to a high school football game.

And two councilors, Belinda Gerry and Dan Herrick, objected to how the neighbors, Councilor Hayes and Chief Crowell came up with the proposal.

“This should not have been done in a closed room,” Herrick said. “It should have been done here, in council chambers where everyone can see.”

Gerry said she was concerned that Hayes and Crowell only spoke to neighbors opposed to the light show.

But neighbors said they are not against the show — just the traffic it creates.

“However anybody wants to celebrate the birthday of our Lord and Savior is their own business,” Kate Benson, of 65 Vista Drive, said. “But there has to be some sort of way to make it work for all of us.”

Kansas Neighbors Meet Over Christmas Display Problems

Some Prairie Village residents are crying “bah humbug” over Mike Babick’s elaborate Christmas display.

Babick still plans to flip the switch Thanksgiving week on the twinkling lights and animated figures sprawled over his home and yard. But neighbors will meet Wednesday night with police to discuss their concerns about traffic congestion and crowd control.

Crowds are drawn to the animated Santas, penguins, elves and other figures. Babick estimates 250,000 people drove or walked by his home during last year’s holiday season. Babick has been decorating his home in the 7600 block of Falmouth Street for more than four decades.

And those crowds tromp over lawns and park in no-parking zones, Babick’s neighbors say. They want to discuss practical solutions with the Prairie Village Police Department.

For its part, the police department says it doesn’t have the resources to deal with the avalanche of complaints about no-parking zone violations between Thanksgiving night and New Year’s.

The public meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Prairie Village City Council Chambers.

The display runs through New Year’s Day. Babick switches on the lights around dusk each night. He turns them off around 10 p.m. on week nights and as late as midnight on weekends, he said.

Babick recently told the Johnson County Sun that he has even more animated figures for this year’s display.

“Once I get more complaints, it inspires me to do more for next year. It’s a personal challenge, and I like a challenge,” Babick told the newspaper.

Traffic already is only allowed to drive one-way in front of Babick’s home because of the crowds.

Christmas With a Capital C Movie Irritates Liberal Left

The Huffington Post is huffing about the release of a new Christmas movie, Christmas with a Capital C:

The clearly provacative straight-to-DVD movie has the atheist blogosphere abuzz with the pre-season anti-Christian rants of the War on Christmas. Set in a small Alaska town, the trailer alone is making the Sarah Palin jokes run wild. The story tells the tale of a former rival of the Christian lead who has come to the small Alaska town to seek the removal of a Nativity scene from the town square. We assume he loses (who stars as the ACLU lead, we wonder?).

“Christmas with a Capital C” was filmed in Seward the last of February and early March. The movie stars Daniel Baldwin (the second-oldest of the Baldwin brothers) and Ted McGinley (from “Married … with Children), plus a slew of Seward extras, including high school students, stay-at-home moms and guys standing in the cold rain for hours without a jacket. The straight-to-DVD movie centers around two high school rivals – Baldwin and McGinley – at odds over a Nativity scene in a city building. Baldwin plays the antagonist, or the Grinch, who experiences an eventual change of heart. “This is a feel-good movie, with a lot of conflict and the theme of the Grinch finally coming home,” said Anchorage-based executive producer David Cuddy. “The final scene is like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ where his character melts and becomes a good guy.”

Pope Warns that Christmas and Religion Becoming Marginalized

Pope Benedict used the keynote address of his visit to Britain to protest at “the increasing marginalization of religion” in public life, maintaining that even the celebration of Christmas was at risk.

In a dense, closely argued speech to an audience that included four former prime ministers, the pope said social consensus alone could not be left to decide policies. And he pointed to the global financial crisis as an example of what happened when pragmatic solutions were applied in the absence of ethical considerations.

The occasion was rich with symbolism. The pope was accepting what he called an “unprecedented invitation” to address Britain’s great and good in Westminster Hall where the Catholic saint, Thomas More, was tried and convicted for refusing to put expedience ahead of his religious convictions and bowing to the demands of his king, Henry VIII.

In a key passage, he said: “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.” This was a clear reference to Britain, whose tolerance he praised on the first day of his visit.

He went on: “There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.”

Virginia County Rules Christmas Displays Can Stay

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to uphold a policy that allows unattended displays, including religious ones, to be placed on the public grounds of the county courthouse in downtown Leesburg — effectively ending the first battle in the War on Christmas 2010. In an 8 to 1 vote the board put an end to a heated debate that began in November 2009, when a resident-led commission decided that the county should ban unattended displays outside the courthouse. That decision, prompted by a rising number of requests to use the space, drew the ire of residents when the commission denied a rotary group’s application to place a Christmas tree on court grounds.

Residents speaking in favor of allowing religious displays on the grounds have dominated previous public hearings. They did so again at a public input session Tuesday at which the board was urged to maintain the current policy by Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), local clergy members and scores of residents wearing blue pins that read “Merry Christmas — God with us.”

The appeals of those who addressed the board ranged from impassioned pleas to respect the Constitution to angry claims of religious persecution.

“Christianity is under attack,” Leesburg resident Barbara Bayles-Roberts said. As for those who don’t believe in God, she added, “there is a holiday for them, and it’s called April Fools’ Day.”

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) also weighed in on the matter in an opinion dated Aug. 20, saying that local governments should not be compelled to ban holiday displays that include religious symbols. The opinion was a response to a request from Marshall, who asked whether Loudoun is required to prohibit holiday displays on public property.

Miller, who cast the lone opposing vote, expressed concern that the right to due process was being overshadowed by the right to religious freedom, adding that jurors or defendants might be intimidated by displays outside the building. People do not come to the courthouse to see religious displays, Miller said: “They come to the courthouse to see justice done.”

But the remaining supervisors were ultimately united in their desire to maintain the current policy in the hope that the use of the property will reflect a spirit of inclusion and tolerance.

“People who preach the First Amendment need to abide by the First Amendment,” said Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who added that he would be willing to revisit the matter next year if an incident such as the one that occurred last year — when an unpopular display was stolen — is repeated this holiday season.

Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac) said she thinks the courthouse grounds should be “a vibrant place” where the community can express itself.

“I hope we can put this issue to rest, finally,” she said.

Don’t hold your breath.