We previously followed the controversy over the nuisance created by a man who erected giant lighted crosses to convert or deter atheists, but succeeded in primarily blocking the sleep of his neighbor. Now, Carl Behr is refusing to take down the crosses by citing his duty to a higher law.
What is interesting is that the Baldwin Borough Council just passed the law giving them authority over lighted displays on Tuesday. The new law requires a permit.
However, Behr refuses to comply, insisting “It’s been about the Lord since the beginning and if anyone tries to make me remove them, they will only anger the Lord.”
That does not exactly make him the Sir Thomas More of Baldwin. He may want to focus on more mundane arguments. The timing of the order vis-a-vis the enactment of the law could offer some arguments. Moreover, there remains the question of the status of holiday lighting and whether this can be viewed as a temporary and not a permanent sign. Then there is the question of whether they can prohibit the crosses if he takes down the Christmas lights but leaves up the crosses.
Here is the ordinance: LightingOrdinance
It seeks to provide “light trespass” from any outdoor lighting. Under section 4, “seasonal lighting” is exempted. It is only allowed for sixty days though it is not clear what will constitute the “season” recognized under the law.
Generally, courts reject aesthetic nuisance claims but courts also tend to defer to the government in regulation of signs. Such regulations must however be content neutral. The council insists that this law has been in the works for a long time — before the Behr controversy. Of course, this is not commercial speech. Behr could question whether other people will be barred from putting up lighted religious symbols in an equal protection claim. He may, however, win over even fewer judges than he has atheist converts as a result of his signs.
If those arguments do not work, Behr can go to his final hearing before the Baldwin city council and announce “I live as Baldwin’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”