Thursday, December 17, 2009

From the Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone - Homewood, AL

Ah, yes, I wrote in Journey magazine recently about some of the ways that public officials have become intimidated with respect to the celebration of Christmas. Well, the hits just keep on coming, as attempts to overregulate the expression of the season continue to proliferate.

And, one of the latest comes from the state of Alabama, where a Birmingham suburb passed a law over a decade ago that requires off-duty firefighters to be present when a church conducts a Christmas candlelight service. Not just the presence of a fire extinguisher, or one or two firefighters, but 4 of them! At every service.

Read the story here from the Birmingham News.

OK, I don't know how many candlelight services are being held on Christmas Eve in the lovely little burg of Homewood, but let's say there are 25. That means 100 firefighters would have to be dispatched to various parts of the city. At $100 a piece!! I can understand the public safety issue here, but realistically, how many times have candlelight services resulted in a hazardous situation? And, where does it end?

I don't know how this regulation was passed, but perhaps a more practical means could be developed, if there's such a concern about a fire breaking out at a candlelight service. And, as the lady from Samford said in the Birmingham News article, the "least restrictive" means was not taken here, with regard to free expression. So, what's the endgame - will a church either knowingly or unknowingly break the law and have a firefighter-less service, be forced to pay a fine, and then file a lawsuit, claiming it is unconstitutional because of free expression concerns? Does the City of Homewood have enforcement personnel that would be dispatched on Christmas Eve to arrest church leaders and snuff out the candles?

I don't perceive any malicious intent here, but this does seem all a bit of an overextension of governmental regulation. Perhaps some inspired wisdom can bring light into this potentially dark situation.

Further reading: Frank James' piece on the NPR "Two-Way" blog.

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