Town Orders Ohio Man To Take Down Zombie Nativity

Creator-of-zombie-nativity-scene-threatened-with-$1000-fine-if-he-does-not-remove-display-from-Cincinnati-suburbThere is an interesting twist on the usual nativity litigation that comes with the season (for a prior column, click here and here). In Ohio, Jasen Dixon has been told to take down his Nativity scene. Dixon, who manages a nearby haunted house, took a unique approach to the standard Christmas display: it shows the holy family as zombies.

The display shows life-sized figures of zombies as well as a zombie baby Jesus.

Sycamore Township, outside Cincinnati, does not allow structures to be located in the front or the side yard to occupy more than 35 percent of the area. There is also a rule that a primary structure must be 3 feet from the street, and 6 feet from the house.

The regulation sets up a classic constitutional claim. Dixon is unaware of other nativity scenes being the subject of such an order. Indeed, I expect that this is a rule honored primarily in the breach and that most people have no idea of the rule and assume that they are free to use their whole yard and house for a display. If correct, this is a selective prosecution targeting an individual for the content of his display or speech.

He was given until today to take down the display. I would sternly caution the city to reconsider before selectively moving against Dixon unless it has a documented history of consistent enforcement. (By the way, the law is in my view highly problematic. I am not sure of the public policy reason preventing a family from using half of their yard for a religious or non-religious display. Likewise, the rule of placing the display six feet from a home seems a bit unsupportable).

I expect that Dixon might have a viable free speech claim. If forced into litigation, the city would have to show that it polices holiday displays with this same bizarre rigor in measuring the percentage and distance issues. If so, the city clearly has more time and resources than most in this country.

30 thoughts on “Town Orders Ohio Man To Take Down Zombie Nativity”

  1. obscene
    1. offensive or outrageous to accepted standards of decency or modesty
    2. (Law) law (of publications) having a tendency to deprave or corrupt
    3. disgusting; repellent:

    This is a perverse defense of the first amendment and distorted in real time in terms of significance and disposition. The guy is advertising his business by provocative methods that fostered a local complaint. The local officials reacted to the complaint and may have felt personally offended themselves.

    The Federal government steps on the first amendment in major ways and all this venting is compensating for your impotent and insensitivity to protecting the constitution form real power concentration. Go back to sleep.

  2. For Pete’s sake, Turley, stop wasting your time and ours with trivia. There is actual Big Stuff going on, as you are aware.

  3. Crossing the Jason-Dixon line…
    Zombie cops took down a group of zombie Nativity display in a hail of bullets today when Jason-Dixon refused to surrender to town officials…

    Commercial Christmas…Live at five, more news at 11.

  4. Reblogged this on Oxygen in Use! Smoking is OK! and commented:
    Interesting article, as it shows another example of selective enforcement, whether it be for political, religious, status, and other areas where un-equal treatment is the norm. And on all levels, from local, to state, to federal and internationally, inequality of the rules is the norm, and those in power twisting them to their own personal agenda.

  5. Zombies versus Bureaucrats. Now that would be a movie to watch. Terry Gilliam would make this work well.

    1. Darren – I think parody and satire are always covered. This case is a slam dunk. Even I could win it. 😉

  6. It should be obvious this man would probably only have this display up for the Christmas season and then it would come down, like the rest of the displays around the township. Selective enforcement? Definitely. I fail to see a compelling interest the township has to exert dominion over a display such as this.

    If this man is fined for the display, I hope he files a legal action against the city that costs them three orders of magnitude greater, and embarrasses the politicians greatly.

    I’d contribute to this man’s legal fund if he took an action against the city.

  7. It would be pretty simple to drive around town and photograph other yard displays.

  8. Dixon, who manages a nearby haunted house…this is advertizement taking advantage of traditional ceremonial and religious symbolism. He should have placed zombies at the head of a Santa Zombie sled…instead.

  9. I agree, unless other peoples displays are being enforced in the same way. May not be in the best of taste, but then that can also be said for a lot of other displays.

  10. Probably the zombie display will come down voluntarily, because the point has been made and a Xmas display is yesterday’s news after Xmas. But wait until next year when someone files complaints against every display of any type. That is when the town will need to consider the risk of selective enforcement.

    The land use ordinance in question most likely is directed to permanent structures such as planters or artwork and there was no contemplation of the ordinance’s applicability to temporary seasonal displays. Would anyone complain about a Zombie display for Halloween? Probably only if it included a baby Jesus.

  11. The six feet from a house rule probably is the result of decorations catching on fire and then spreading to the house, in reality or in the nightmares of city officials. Where is a good lawyer willing to do some pro bono work, when you need him, here, and here, and here.

  12. Reblogged this on Wrestling with the Law and commented:
    A fascinating look at possible selective enforcement of a municipal code. Such selective enforcement raises questions of possible constitutional violations. Thanks to Jonathan Turley for bringing attention to this.

  13. I predict the display comes down. Most people will bend b/c they don’t have the funds to pay a lawyer.

  14. I see a lot of trouble in this one. Besides, I think it is kinda funny. 🙂

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