NEW ORLEANS—The ACLU of Louisiana filed suit in federal court today against the city of Denham Springs on behalf of local resident Sarah Childs over the display of lights that she installed at her home. Childs’ rooftop display in the shape of a hand with an extended middle finger has been the source of neighborhood complaints since it was installed. Most recently, after a series of retaliatory maneuvers by Denham Springs’ city officials, Childs was wrongly ordered by a police officer to remove the display or be taken to jail. The ACLU’s suit will seek a temporary restraining order, an injunction, damages and attorney’s fees. ACLU attorney Justin Harrison says the law is clear. “Not only is it a direct First Amendment violation, the city also does not have the right to retaliate against Ms. Childs collaterally for conduct it could not prohibit directly.”
Events that led to the lawsuit began several weeks ago, when, as part of a long-running personal dispute with neighbors, Childs installed her display. The neighbors complained to the police, and an officer – without any basis in law - instructed her to remove the display or face arrest. She initially complied, but after media coverage caught the ACLU’s attention, Childs decided to re-install the display featuring two hands rather than the original one. The city responded first by ticketing her for a number of unrelated infractions, but when that failed to intimidate Childs, police once again instructed her – without legal basis - to remove the display or be taken to jail. An officer came to her home, ordered her onto the roof without legal authority, and watched from her yard while she removed the display.
“This case is about protecting law-abiding people from police overreaching,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “In a free society, we cannot allow law enforcement to invent ways to coerce people into conforming to their neighbors’ tastes or desires. In fact the police have a duty to protect the rights of dissenters, and the City of Denham Springs has failed in that obligation to Sarah Childs.”
The ACLU of Louisiana’s suit against the City of Denham Springs was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. Copies of the Complaint and related documents are linked below.
Childs v. Denham Springs - Complaint
Childs v. Denham Springs - Exhibit 1
Childs v. Denham Springs - Exhibit 2
Childs v. Denham Springs - Memo in Support of TRO
Childs v. Denham Springs - Motion for TRO