Religious Freedoms vs. Land-Use Laws

A Vermont couple is challenging the decision of a state zoning commission that limits their right to illuminate a 24 foot cross on their own property to several weeks around Christmas.

This article describes the story of a couple that has started a First Amendment battle in Lyndon, Vermont.

The couple, Richard and Joan Downing, claim that the 24-foot-tall cross is a constitutionally protected expression of their faith. Neighbors of the Downings and land use officials in Vermont, however, believe that the illuminated cross detracts from the natural beauty of the town and want it to come down.

Patricia Salkin, an Albany Law School professor and land use expert, explains the situation as similar to a person who wants to post a sign on private property that reads "I hate the president." The sign is protected as free speech under the Constitution, however, Salkin says, "if it's a sign so out of scale with the character of the community, the municipality might say it can't be bigger than X-dimension."

Full Story: Lyndon cross at center of rights dispute



Ridiculous - This Cross Not Needed to Exercise Religion

With all due respect to the Downings, nobody needs a 24-foot tall illuminated cross on a hill to exercise their Catholic religious beliefs, or any other religion. I know from the source. God recently whispered in my ear, "I don't need any 24-foot tall illuminated crosses for anybody to show their belief in me. Live your life the right way and don't impose your religious beliefs on anybody else." If she can talk to Billy Graham and the Downings, she can talk to me.

Seriously though, exercising one's religion is done through the way you live your life. You're certainly free to do anything else you want to exercise your religion within the bounds of the law, but you have no Constitutional right to impose your religion on everybody else. Pray to your heart's content. Wear your religious jewelry. Celebrate your holidays. But don't try to impose your religion on anybody else.

But in no way does exercising your religion require you to light up the neighborhood with a 24-foot tall illuminated cross, Mogan David, or any other symbol of your religion.

The actual article points out that the Downings' not-so-modest cross lights up the whole neighborhood. Not only are they imposing their religious symbol on everybody else, but they are generating a nuisance. And even under the Constitution and RILUPA, they can't do that.

Dan Lauber, AICP

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