Louisiana Woman’s “Obscene” Christmas Light Sculpture Spurs First Amendment Dispute

A woman in Louisiana has provisionally won a dispute with local authorities over her right to use her skills as a light sculptor to be really funny — or really juvenile, depending on whom you ask. For months, Baton Rouge resident Sarah Childs had been in a dispute with some of her neighbors, and eventually decided to voice her frustration with a Christmas light arrangement several feet high in the shape of a “doigt d’honneur.” When neighbors complained, Childs was told she would be arrested and fined if she didn’t take the arrangement down.

According to a suit filed on Childs’s behalf, several aggrieved neighbors spoke directly to the mayor of Denham Springs, the town just east of Baton Rouge where she lives. One officer allegedly told her that the arrangement was in violation of the city’s “obscenity statute,” even though no such statute exists. After taking them down, Childs recruited the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana for her defense, eventually publishing an open letter to the city and replacing the old arrangement with a new one, this time featuring two hands with their middle fingers extended instead of one.

Citing these, as well as an incident in which she allegedly disturbed the peace while singing a song about her neighborhood dispute from her driveway, the city issued Childs two more tickets. According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge James Brady has since intervened, issuing an order contending that the city’s “continued efforts” to prevent Childs from displaying the light arrangement were a violation of her First Amendment rights. The matter is expected to be settled for good at a hearing in Baton Rouge on January 7.

— Reid Singer