Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Donald Henderson knows not to overdo it on Christmas decorations. A week after Thanksgiving, Henderson placed a tasteful wreath on the front door, strung a few lights along the front porch railing, and, just to elevate his game a notch or two, plopped an inflatable Mickey and Minnie Mouse on his front lawn, wishing all "Season's Greetings."
Tucked behind Mickey and Minnie stood one last touch, a small blue sign that reads, "Happy Birthday Jesus, Come Let Us Adore Him."
In this era of culture wars and all-powerful homeowners associations, what came next seems all but inevitable: When Henderson opened his mail on Christmas Eve, he found a letter from the New Bristow Village management company informing him that he had violated one of the development's covenants.
The problem was not with the inflatable. Although the sign marking Jesus's birthday had been up for three weeks, the Community Management Corp. ordered that it be removed. No signs - except for real estate or security signs - are allowed in the Prince William County development.
When you buy into one of these communities, you also buy into their restrictions. As one who believes in the First Amendment, I find these types of restrictions repugnant. IMHO, its the man's property, and if he wants to put up a sign advocating his religion, he should be able to do so. Unfortunately, he made the conscious decision to surrender some of his Constitutional protections when he purchased a home where he did. More:
"This is a matter of a private contract, and HOAs are entitled to have declarations, and whatever those declarations are make up the laws of that community," said Mike Inman, a Virginia Beach lawyer and co-publisher of the Virginia Condominium & Homeowners' Association Law Blog. "But it would seem to me that the 'Happy Birthday Jesus' item was not necessarily a sign, but yard decor for the season."
Now read that again...."HOA's are entitled to have declarations, and whatever those declarations are make up the laws of that community." That sounds an awful like "The Government" to me! And can a homeowners association, functioning is essence as the government, really restrict a fundamental right like that? Apparently so! We're not talking about grass length, paint choices, the existence of a clothesline, or unsightly trash cans (although I think HOA's should butt out of those issues as well), we're talking about free speech.
People complain about their local, state and federal government? Overzealous neighborhood government seems a bigger threat.