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Louisiana town is up in arms over resident's Christmas lights

December 22, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Lights adorn a Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. In Louisiana, one woman's unusual lights display has a unsettled a neighborhood.
Lights adorn a Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. In Louisiana, one… (John Moore / Getty Images )

Sarah Childs might be getting a lump of coal for Christmas. But she's also gotten the gift of a temporary restraining order, which means she can continue giving her neighbors an eyeful.

U.S. District Judge James Brady of the middle district court of Louisiana has ordered Denham Springs, La., officials to leave Childs alone about her home's Christmas display,  the Associated Press reports.

Childs has been fighting with her neighbors, and on Nov. 27 -- as the American Civil Liberties Union put it in a complaint against the city -- "installed on the roof of her house a string of holiday lights in the shape of a human hand with an extended middle finger."

The ACLU included a photo of Childs' one-finger salute, glowing righteously in the night.

The neighbors did not take so kindly to this gesture, and several complained directly to the town's mayor, Jimmy Durbin, the ACLU said. An officer then came by and said Childs would have to take down the lights because she was violating a city obscenity statute, the ACLU said in its complaint.

Childs did. Except it turned out the city didn't have an obscenity statute, the ACLU said. And by this time, local media had noticed what was going on.

You might guess what happened next.

"On Thursday, December 14, 2012, Childs put the lights back up, modifying the display to include two hands, each with the middle finger extended," the ACLU wrote.

The neighbors complained again. This time, the ACLU said, police started harassing Childs for walking down the side of the street and for singing and dancing in her driveway to a song she made up about her fight with the neighbors, which included some obscenities.

Childs remained defiant, but then an unnamed officer told her she'd have to take down the display or go to jail, the ACLU said. She took the lights down.

The ACLU sued the city, and a judge has temporarily agreed to let Childs keep her display. In its suit arguing that the city had infringed on Childs' First Amendment rights and her right to due process, the ACLU said, "She intends to install her display again and, if permitted, plans to keep them up for a long time."

Childs and city officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

As of Thursday evening, one of Childs' neighbors -- who declined to be identified for fear of causing trouble -- said the full display was back up.

"I’m standing in my front yard," the neighbor told The Times when reached by phone. "On [Childs'] carport, there is a middle finger there in colored lights. Multicolored lights. And then it’s written out: 'Where’s my dog?' all in colored lights, with a question mark. Then on the right side of the house, there’s another middle finger.”

The neighbor said she didn't know "the finger lady" or the whole story about the dog, but said at one point she  had a black poodle with the top of its head and its tail dyed red.

"The cops were out here three, four nights ago," the neighbor said. "I heard somebody hollering -- this is small, very close houses, and you can hear everything, so you hear everyone screaming. The girl across the street and her people are outside, and the finger lady is outside, and the finger lady is screaming, 'Where’s my dog? Where's my dog?' over and over.”

The neighbor added, "Then the cops showed up, and that's about when I decided to call it a night."

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