A family in New Jersey is once again putting on a massive Christmas lights display at their home. They've been doing it for years. It's gotten so big that people come from miles around to see.
Some of their neighbors, though, are unhappy with Tom Apruzzo's light show. The city's mayor says those neighbors are concerned about heavy foot traffic, minimal parking, and restricted access for first responders in the event of an emergency. So the city says they'll fine Apruzzo $3000 for each night the lights are out. That would cover the additional police needed to direct traffic, as well as a shuttle bus service to bring visitors in from outlying parking lots.
None of this will dissuade Apruzzo, who tells CBS News:
"They want me to pay for the police, they also want me to pay for shuttle service from a private parking lot and bus people in that they want me to pay for… and I'm not doing it"
"If they shut me down, they're going to have to talk to my attorney," he responded. "This is my First Amendment right."
"Free speech and free religion,"
First, I love these lights and admire anyone who's willing to go through all that work to make beautiful light display that others will love and not come out looking like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. But in the interest of full disclosure, I'm really glad they're not in my neighborhood.
But does this guy have a case if the city shuts him down? Or if they force him to pay the fines? I'm gonna go out on a (Christmas tree) limb and say no. Yes, it's Christmas and therefore a religious holiday. But no one -- literally, no one! -- is trying to take away his religious right to celebrate Christmas. They are just asking him not to disrupt the entire neighborhood with his light show.
The First Amendment question seems trickier. A big light show is his expression of "I love Christmas this much" (arms extended to full wingspan). Would toning it down be a violation of that right to express himself? Umm, maybe.
But people don't like paying taxes, and if he doesn't pay for the traffic problems his display creates, the taxpayers (read: his neighbors) will have to foot the bill. If he can pay for the traffic control, then he can make the display as big as his heart desires. Or he can just put up a big sign telling everyone how much he loves Christmas. (I should point out that I am not a lawyer, just a radio personality, and only think I know what I'm talking about. A real lawyer might beg to differ).
In the end, I hope Tom Apruzzo gets to keep his lights. I hope the disgruntled neighbors and community can come to some type of agreement. Because it's good publicity for the community, and probably good for local restaurants, as well.
And because these lights are really, really awesome.