Last week we reported on several controversies regarding public displays of traditional and not-so-traditional religious iconography.  Well, it seems that the issue isn’t dead yet. Since our last holiday post, several new stories have come to surface.

Oh Holy Zombies? The manager of “13 Rooms of Doom Haunted House,” Jasen Dixon, wanted to celebrate Christmas like many do in Sycamore Township, Ohio—erect a front yard nativity scene.  Dixon’s display is special, however, because he decided to work with the materials he had at hand.  That’s right, zombies from the haunted house he manages.

Describing the undead scene, Dixon explained, “It’s a different take. I handmade everything but Joseph and baby Jesus so it’s kind of artsy….”  A crowned wise man presents baby, fanged Jesus with a skull as undead Mary and Joseph look on.  The somewhat ghoulish crowd is protected by an eight foot structure with roof, hay, lights, and what appears to be the skeleton of a dog.

Although Dixon might be prepared for a future zombie apocalypse, he may also have to prepare for a fight with the Township over its zoning code.  Apparently, the subject zone does not allow front or side yard structures that cover 35% or more of the area.  Dixon claims that the zombie scene makes up only about 14 to 17% of the area.  Zoning officials requested that Dixon remove the display by Friday, December 26 or face a $1,000 fine.  A report from the same day, however, indicates that Dixon refused to remove the display as requested. In fact, Dixon has established a crowd-funding site “to make a better zombie nativity scene for everyone to see next year and funds to pay the township citations for having the structure.”

Satan Not Welcome? Last time, we reported that the Satanic Temple in Florida erected an “Angel in Hellfire” display in the state Capitol Rotunda.  The display portrays an angel falling from the sky into a fiery pit.

Since our initial report, the angel has fallen—literally.  According to the Associated Press, Susan Hemeryck, 54, of Tallahassee attacked the display, after announcing to an on-duty police officer, that she was “sorry and had to take the satanic display.”  Hemeryck was advised to leave the display alone, but she then reached forward and began to rip the display apart.

John Porgal, regional director of American Atheists, later visited the Capitol and stated “the angel’s dead.”  Hemeryck was later charged with criminal mischief, a second degree misdemeanor.

The Winter Solstice Takes Revenge: The courthouse in Mountain Home, Arkansas has displayed a nativity scene on its front lawn for years.  For the past two years, however, the courthouse’s chief administrator has refused to make a new addition—a “Happy Solstice” banner.

After the second denial and two days prior to Christmas, the American Humanist Association (“AHA”) and Baxter County resident Dessa Blackthorn filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas against the County and County Judge Mickey Pendergrass.   The lawsuit, according to Blackthorn, isn’t meant to take anything away from anyone. “It’s about equality,” said Blackthorn.

According to the Baxter Bulletin, the AHA sent a letter on two occasions after the 2013 denial, requesting that the crèche be removed unless other religious and non-religious groups were allowed to make a holiday display on the courthouse lawn.

In an interview, Judge Pendergrass provided his view that the display is constitutional and that the Winter Solstice banner was denied because no banners are allowed on the courthouse lawn.  However, the complaint, available here, claims that “[o]n or about January 24, 2014, a large, unattended banner was displayed on or near the Courthouse property.”

More Notable Nativity Scenes: Although the “25 Most Awesomely Inexplicable Nativity Scenes” may not raise questions of constitutional law, they are fun to gawk at (or just plain cute).  Thanks to BuzzFeed for assembling the entertaining list (albeit in 2011) full of comic book heroes and villains, star trek and star wars characters, dogs and dinosaurs.

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Photo of Karla Chaffee Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.

Photo of Evan Seeman Evan Seeman

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of…

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage before the United States Supreme Court in a RLUIPA case entitled City of San Leandro v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evan serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the APA’s Planning & Law Division. He also serves as the Chair of the Planning & Zoning Section of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and is the former Co-Chair of its Municipal Law Section. He has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list as a Rising Star in the area of Land Use Law for 2013 and 2014. He received his B.A. in political science and Russian studies (with honors) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was selected as the President’s Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Evan received his Juris Doctor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he served on the Connecticut Law Review. While in law school, he interned with the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General in the environmental department, and served as a judicial intern for the judges of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. Following law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable F. Herbert Gruendel of the Connecticut Appellate Court.

Photo of Dwight Merriam Dwight Merriam

Dwight H. Merriam founded Robinson+Cole’s Land Use Group in 1978. He represents land owners, developers, governments and individuals in land use matters, with a focus on defending governments in RLUIPA cases. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President of the American Institute of…

Dwight H. Merriam founded Robinson+Cole’s Land Use Group in 1978. He represents land owners, developers, governments and individuals in land use matters, with a focus on defending governments in RLUIPA cases. Dwight is a Fellow and Past President of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former Director of the American Planning Association (APA), a former chair of APA’s Planning and Law Division, Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of State and Local Government Law, Chair of the Institute of Local Government Studies at the Center for American and International Law, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a member of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute National Advisory Board, a Fellow of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, a Counselor of Real Estate, a member of the Anglo-American Real Property Institute, and a Fellow of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

He teaches land use law at the University of Connecticut School of Law and at Vermont Law School and has published over 200 articles and eight books, including Inclusionary Zoning Moves Downtown, The Takings Issue, The Complete Guide to Zoning, and Eminent Domain Use and Abuse: Kelo in Context. He is the senior co-author of the leading casebook on land use law, Planning and Control of Land Development (Eighth Edition). Dwight has written and spoken widely on how to avoid RLUIPA claims and how to successfully defend against them in court. He is currently writing a book on the subject, RLUIPA DEFENSE, for the American Bar Association.

Dwight has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list in the area of Land Use Law since 2006, is one of the Top 50 Connecticut Super Lawyers in Connecticut, and is one of the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers (Super Lawyers is a registered trademark of Key Professional Media, Inc.). He received his B.A. (cum laude) from the University of Massachusetts, his Masters of Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, where he was the graduation speaker in 2011, and his J.D. from Yale. He is a featured speaker at many land use seminars, and presents monthly audio land use seminars for the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Dwight has been cited in the national press from The New York Times to People magazine and has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC and public television.

Dwight also had a career in the Navy, serving for three tours in Vietnam aboard ship, then returning to be the Senior Advisor of the Naval ROTC Unit at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he taught Defense Administration and Military Management as an Assistant Professor in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in Defense Administration and Military Management. He left active duty after seven years to attend law school, but continued on for 24 more years as a reserve Surface Warfare Officer with two major commands, including that of the reserve commanding officer of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He retired as a Captain in 2009 after 31 years of service.