By Bob Anderson
Florida Parishes bureau
November 28, 2012
DENHAM SPRINGS — Thanksgiving has just passed and Sarah Henderson has already taken the holiday lights off her roof.
A visit from the police prompted by complaints from her neighbors might have hurried the process.
The lights were in the shape of a hand flipping the middle finger, neighbors said. Henderson said that’s what she intended.
“I got to looking, and I said is that what I think it is?” said Gemma Rachal, who lives at the far end of the street. “I put on my glasses just to be double sure.”
“I’m furious,” Rachal said “My 6-year-old tried to make the symbol with his hand.”
She said she was afraid her son might mimic the gesture again at kindergarten.
Neighbor Hunter Lee said the lights bothered him because of his children, ages 3 and 9.
He said he didn’t like “having to explain to the kids what it means.”
Amy Bryant, who lives a block away, said that when she first saw the lights this weekend she thought, “I can’t believe she did it.”
Police Chief Scott Jones said an officer went to Henderson’s house on Starlite Drive on Monday and talked Henderson into taking the lights down.
Jones said the officer “played on her sense of fair play” and the idea that neighborhood children would see the decoration.
Henderson said she got on her roof in the rain and removed the offending rooftop decoration after the officer mentioned the possibility of a $300 or $400 fine for violating a city ordinance.
The finger was intended for neighbors with whom she’s had a yearlong disagreement over personal matters, she said.
“This is how I expressed myself,” Henderson said. “It’s the only means I have to express myself to these people.”
She said she has thought about replacing the extended finger with a swastika.
Henderson said she felt her original decoration was within her First Amendment rights but agreed to remove it rather than face the possibility of having to pay a fine.
Cpl. Shawn Perkins said they had a discussion about First Amendment rights and the city’s obscenity statute, and he told her that if she insisted on putting something up as a message to neighbors, it would have to be less offensive.
Henderson, who has four children between the ages of 4 and 16 living with her, said she’s overdone Christmas lights in the past, but has never put up anything neighbors complained of as being offensive.
“I’ve always been a little different,” she said smiling Monday afternoon as she looked down the street where neighbors had begun returning home from work.