Indiana Town Cowers from Bullying ACLU

Indiana Town Cowers from Bullying ACLU

It is a familiar Christmas story in America: a community adopts a symbol of the season — a Nativity, a tree or something similar — then the city gets threatened. Fearing a costly public battle city officials quickly give in. This time it is Knightstown, Indiana and the symbol is a cross atop a city Christmas tree. The ALCU calls that “establishment of a state religion”.

According to several media reports Knightstown resident Joseph Tompkins argues that the Christian symbol on display in the Knightstown town square violates the First Amendment. The lawsuit is seeking for removal of the cross, monetary damages and declaration that the cross display violates the First Amendment.

Tompkins, and the ACLU, agree that the cross is offensive and “forcing” religion on those who don’t want it. What they want is money and to force EVERYONE in Knightstown to believe as Tompkins believes. In essence, if this case is won by the ACLU Knighstown will be forced to be atheist.

Nobody will see it that way, of course.

The community has responded as you would expect. Crosses are suddenly everywhere.

But this will end as it always ends. The cross comes down. There will be no court case. And yet another sad chapter in misreading the Constitution will be written.

The suit says Tompkins “is forced to come into direct and unwelcome contact” with the cross on top of the tree as he drives through town. This, the suit says, has caused him “irreparable harm,” which can only be remedied by taking the cross down and paying Tompkins monetary damages.

The only “irreparable harm” comes from an elected City council that won’t stand up for itself and for the people it represents. They should counter sue for damages caused by all the publicity and take it to the ACLU. Hit them where they live — in the pocketbook.

It’s the American way.

Florida City Takes Light Enthusiasts to Court

Florida City Takes Light Enthusiasts to Court

In the most famous Christmas light fight in America things are about to get really ugly — if they weren’t ugly enough already. The City of Plantation, Florida has imposed every warning, fine and ordinance it can but the Hyatt Extreme Christmas display has not only endured it has grown larger. So the city is going to court to prove its case. According to local media a judge will hold a hearing on the matter June 4th.

Other Christmas light enthusiasts from around the country are watching and starting to sound off. Lon Wilkins, from Henderson, Nevada, operates a popular local display in his own neighborhood. “I was supportive of the Hyatts at first because they seem like nice people just trying to celebrate Christmas,” Wilkins said. “But as we have watched this unfold it is clear they have been more about getting bigger and gaining more attention. They seem to have forgotten that the central message of Christmas is peace. If they cannot make peace with their own neighbors what are they all about anyway? I think it is all very sad.”

The case is important because Christmas lights on a much smaller scale have become an issue in many communities and home owner associations across the country. During 2014 we documented several instances where even simple displays of Christmas were disputed by local ordinance. If the City of Plantation case against Hyatt Extreme Christmas is successful it may fuel further lawsuits against Christmas light lovers.

Plantation Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic, who celebrates Christmas, said she is concerned for the neighbors who she said are forced to flee their homes during the holiday season.

“Who is dealing with all the madness again? Us,” said neighbor Dolly Imbert. “We have to go in and out of our houses. Where are my rights? It’s not a normal situation. This is insane. It should not be happening, period.”

The Hyatts were featured in 2013 on “The Great Christmas Light Fight” for their display that features moving characters, a movie screen showing a loop of films, a snow-blowing machine, flashing lights, and an occasional live Santa and “reindeer.” Judges praised the “amusement-park” quality of their presentation, but the Hyatts lost the $50,000 competition to a family from Decatur, Ga.

The city filed a lawsuit in Broward Circuit Court in February 2014 to get the display halted. That case was halted due to an injunction filed by the Hyatts last November. That case gets its day in court now and observers predict the Hyatts are going to lose.

Bendekovic said she wanted the legal action to continue.

“What happens if the settlement falls through?” she said. “We’re here to get the holiday display to [one compatible with] a residential one.”

The Hyatts don’t speak to the media unless it is to promote their display. They continue to make pleas and accusations on their website and Facebook pages. Some speculate that any lawsuit will be challenged in court and that the display will return this Christmas and for seasons to come as the battle takes place in the courts.

Local support for Hyatt Extreme Christmas is difficult to peg. While the display is no doubt wildly popular and draws huge crowds some think most of the monetary and vocal support for the Hyatts come from those who do not live in Plantation and who do not actually have to contend with the issue in their daily lives.

For the Hyatts the argument lies simply with their right to do what they want on their own property — an old argument without much teeth in countless cases with municipalities with zoning laws. The first amendment arguments actually make more sense — or would, if the city were demanding that no display be allowed at all. But that clearly is not the case as Plantation has said all along it just wants a Christmas light display that is on the level with other residences in the area.

Despite the debate the real costs are running up on all sides. Plantation claims it has spent thousands of dollars for police overtime and traffic control while the Hyatts are working under the burden of imposed daily fines of $250 and other fees in excess of $7000. Now attorney fees for both sides are added to the equation.

For the average home Christmas light enthusiast the case is being watched warily.

“We’re concerned about this case,” said Wilkins, who participates actively online with other Christmas light enthusiasts at PlanetChristmas.com, “Neighbor relations are an important part of what we do every year. There are ways to deal with this and some become so big or so popular that they have to get moved for the enjoyment of more people ultimately. Cities and residents can work together. But it appears all or nothing in the case of Plantation and the Hyatt display. It gives all of us a bit of a black eye because it makes all Christmas light enthusiasts look a little nutty and extreme. Most of us are not.”

Texas Courthouse Nativity Battle Explodes

Texas Courthouse Nativity Battle Explodes

A snide blog post at HoustonPress.com tells the story of Cherokee County in Texas where a Nativity scene — we assume this is a a traditional display there — has come under fire from a local resident who calls the display “unwelcoming toward non-Christians and individuals with no religion”.

Daniel Ross, in protesting the display, asked to be able to erect a “Human Lights” display next to the Nativity.

“To help solve this, I would like to get a sign to be placed on the court house to represent HumanLight for Secular Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, and the rest of the secular community. HumanLight is a secular holiday on December 23rd. It’s designed to celebrate and express the positive, secular, human values of reason, compassion, humanity and hope. HumanLight illuminates a positive, secular vision of a happy, just and peaceful future for our world, a future which people can build by working together, drawing on the best of our human capacities. Thank you for taking your time to read this and let me know what time frame would be best to have a sign up next to the manger.”

Commissioner Katharine Pinotti of Precinct 3 sent a private response that, of course, made its way to Houston Press.com:

Mr. Ross,
Please know that I am replying to you ONLY as a resident and NOT as a
representative of Cherokee County as I cannot speak for the court unilaterally. However, I did receive your email requesting to have a “Humanlights” sign erected next to our courthouse decorations and wanted to respond to you from a purely personal point of view.

December 23rd is merely a date selected by your organization to make a political statement of your choice not to celebrate traditional Christian beliefs. Perhaps you should consider choosing another time of the year to demonstrate your secular support instead of attempting to infiltrate the Christmas holiday with a singular purpose to destroy and denigrate the beliefs of others. Try to live and let live.

Katherine Pinotti

Well, you know well where this is headed. Sure enough, American Humanist Association is now crowding in on the act, throwing the weight and the money of a national organization into the fight and sent a letter to Cherokee County asking the whole thing be removed on the age-old flawed argument that nativities somehow violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

You know where this is headed.

We just hope they get this resolved before Festivus.

FFRF Goes After Snow Plows in Sioux Falls

FFRF Goes After Snow Plows in Sioux Falls

Two snow plows painted by a local school as part of the Sioux Falls annual ‘Paint the Plow’ event might not make it out on the street this winter.

One group is challenging the city.

City Hall soon will be decorated for the holidays but one group is attempting to fight city hall on just how much government can get into the Christmas spirit.

The group Freedom From Religion Foundation or FFRF recognizes several state and local government buildings are decked out for the holidays.

Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott said “the courts have looked at displays and have said a Christmas Tree is something that is permissible, proclaiming the birth of Jesus is something that is impermissible for the government to do.”

It”s why the group has an issue with these city snow plows decorated by a local school.

“They’re basically a roving billboard. I think citizens in the community would perceive a problem with it if a plow said ‘praise Allah, or there are no gods.’ That’s city equipment. It’s moving around the city basically all winter,” Elliott said.

Now those plow will come with a disclaimer.

Mayor Mike Huether said “we prefer utilizing compromise and common ground and common sense vs. the court system to resolve issues we have.”

Even after the Christmas season is over, some may argue religious symbols are part of our daily life, whether it’s on our money or in our Pledge of Allegiance.

“We think those things are problematic as well. The courts obviously haven’t agreed on a number of those things and when they’ve addressed those, they’ve more so been allowed because of their history,” Elliott said.

The group Freedom From Religion Foundation says it has about 10 other cases it’s working on challenging the separation between church and state as a violation of the Constitution.

Nativity Thieves Punished in Virginia

Nativity Thieves Punished in Virginia

Every Christmas season we receive dozens of reports of stolen or vandalized public nativity scenes from across America. Rarely is any ever caught or punished for the crimes. News out of Virginia bucks that trend when a man from the town of Forest, Virginia was tried and convicted for stealing and then destroying a nativity scene.

While he won’t have felony convictions on his record, Scott Cooley must spend a year in jail for stealing – and subsequently destroying – the Nativity scene at Shiloh United Methodist Church in Forest, a judge ruled.

Cooley pleaded guilty Tuesday to one misdemeanor count each of petty larceny and destruction of property.

He, along with two other men, initially faced a felony count each of grand larceny and destruction of property worth over $1,000.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Ayers asked Circuit Court Judge James Updike to amend the felony counts to misdemeanors at the request of church officials.

The church, while wanting to hold Cooley and his cohorts accountable, did not want to push for felony convictions, Ayers said.

She characterized Cooley as the ringleader of a group that took the nativity scene, valued at over $2,000, on Dec. 9.

They subsequently posted a picture of themselves on Facebook with the set, and later destroyed the figures, which included a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and three wise men.

Ayers said after reports of the theft surfaced, the group cut the figures into pieces and took them to the Bedford County landfill.