Police in Denham Springs, Louisiana, paid a visit to Sarah Henderson after neighbors complained about the opprobrious arrangement of her Christmas lights. A contentious relationship with her neighbors prompted her to arrange the Christmas lights on her roof to resemble a hand “flipping the bird.” Henderson was ordered to remove the display or be fined for violating local obscenity laws.
“She agreed that it wasn’t worth the possible hassle of fines and legal action,” said Denham Springs Police Corporal Shawn Perkins.
It is not clear what law Herderson was supposedly violating. According to a story in The Advocate, Police Chief Scott Jones said that he would “see if there is a city ordinance” that would prevent Henderson from re-erecting the display. Never mind that any ordinance or law prohibiting such speech would be unconstitutional.
Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman points out that in 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in Cohen v. California that “state may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of … [a] four-letter expletive a criminal offense.”
“The law on this issue is perfectly clear: the City may not restrict Henderson’s expression purely because it, or Henderson’s neighbors, finds it vulgar or offensive,” Esman said in a letter to Denham Springs Police Chief.
I find it extremely disheartening that, in this day and age, those we trust to enforce the law can be so ignorant of it.