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Austin Cline

Michigan: Battle Over Private Nativity Displays

By December 3, 2005

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Most debates about nativity displays are over those displayed on public, government property. In Novi, Michigan, however, there's a conflict over one on purely private property. A family has been told to remove their nativity display because it violates the neighborhood's rules.

The Detroit News reports (via Ed Brayton):

The Samonasí neighborhood association has ordered the Novi family to remove its seven-piece plastic display or face possible fines of $25 to $100 per week.

The family isnít budging and neither are its three wise men. The Samonas have vowed not only to keep the display, but also are threatening to enhance it.ĒIf you take this out, itís not Christmas anymore,Ē said Joe Samona, 16, as he reached down and scooped baby Jesus from the creche on his parentsí front lawn. [...]

Dean Williams, the community association manager and author of the letter, said according to association rules in place since 2000 and signed by the Samonas when they bought the home in 2002, homeowners must request permission to place statues or lawn ornaments outside their home. The Samonas say they never signed any such document.

The above article includes a picture of the nativity display, and itís helpful to go look at it. We arenít talking about a small, unassuming, tasteful display ó if we were, it might be easier to understand the familyís insistence that it shouldnít be banned. Instead, itís a large, well-lit, brightly colored, even gaudy display. Iím not saying that the rules should be applied differently to different people, depending upon oneís aesthetic tastes. What Iím saying is that I can understand why neighborhood association would ban displays like the one in question.

I say this, by the way, as someone who has nothing good to say about such agreements and covenants. I wouldnít enter one unless I had no place else to live and were desperate for housing. The Samona family did enter it, though, and so they voluntarily accepted the rules. Unless there is something odd about these particular rules which makes them illegal (possible, but not likely), then the Samonas have no legal case to make.


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