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Property Owner Gets Jail Time over Yard Art

First Amendment Versus Ballwin City Hall

Dennis Norman

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This morning I saw an article on STL Today about a retired art teacher that was sentenced to 20 days in jail after he refused to make changes to art he has displayed in his front yard that “court and city officials have deemed dangerous.”

According to the article, Lewis Greenberg was convicted in October in St. Louis County court of two counts of city ordinance violations – littering and storing hazardous materials.  The judge told Greenberg to clean it up or face a penalty.  Well, I gotta give it to this guy for standing up for what he believes in as apparently yesterday he showed up in court and told the judge “he had no plans to comply.” This prompted Judge Lawrence Permuter to sentence Greenberg to 20 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.

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The judge said he has been trying to get the property safe, so I guess one could assume this is some pretty dangerous art the old art teacher came up with.  According to STL Today, Greenberg’s attorney said his client’s art was “no different than holiday lights or a birdbath.”

Being a staunch supporter of first amendment freedoms as well as private property rights, and, quite honestly, really curious at this point, I decided to drive to Mr. Greenberg’s house at 977 Morena Court, in Ballwin, MO, and see what all the hubbub was about.

Well, I’ve been there, shot a bunch of photos which are below, and had myself a good chuckle.  I have to admit I was a little taken aback when I rounded the corner and saw Greenberg’s art display….his house sits on a corner so his entire yard, front, both sides and rear, is visible from the street (which, in light of the “no trespassing” signs on the property made my life easier) and I would say pretty much most space has been used.  Now, whether Mr. Greenberg’s attorney’s statement regarding this being “no different than holiday lights or a birdbath”, all I can say is….that may be a stretch….well, unless he was referring to Clark Griswold’s holiday light display in Christmas Vacation.   Oh, what about the Judge’s and City’s claim they are just “trying to keep the property safe”….hmm….I don’t know that it looked that dangerous to me, I guess if you threw yourself at the corner of the star of David you may be able to impale yourself but for starters you would have to trespass and then jump up in the air since the stars are hanging from trees.  So I guess the city’s claim is probably a stretch too…reality it they probably just don’t like the look of it.

My take on things….

The art display does not appear to me to be something that Mr. Greenberg is doing just to annoy people or offend people…clearly, as the pictures show, and he has said, it appears that the art is a statement on the Holocaust…it looks like to me it is the work of someone that is passionate about sharing his thoughts and feelings about the holocaust, and is willing to stand up for his right to do so.  Now, would I want to be his next door neighbor?  Honestly, probably not…it would probably be annoying to have the display of art and the attention it gets next door to me.  However, freedom of speech is an annoying thing...let’s face it, for a lot of us, this freedom is fine as long as people are saying what we want to hear…we just don’t like freedom of speech when people are saying what we don’t want to hear or expressing it in a way we don’t like.  I relate it to the fact I’m a Christian and I like nativity scenes that you see displayed in people’s yards at Christmas.  Are there people that don’t like, or may even be offended by them?  Sure.  Just like there are people that take offense to the way Mr. Greenberg has expressed his thoughts and feelings…Who’s right?  Nah, I’m not going there….

Before I close I do want to say that I have many friends that are Jewish and I have even met a couple of people that were in concentration camps and survived to tell about it….It was one of the more horrific events in our history and I can understand why, particularly at a time when some people are even going as far to say the holocaust didn’t happen, someone, such as Mr. Greenberg, could be so determined to share his art with people to remind everyone about this horrible time in history….

Now for the photos:

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6 comments to Property Owner Gets Jail Time over Yard Art

  • doug

    it is not art. and all you have is the holocaust. you should use the holocaust. to stop prevent all future holocaust. learn your lesson . help the world to be a better place.
    d

  • lisa

    I pity the poor people who live in the neighborhood; I would hardly call this art. In my opinion, this guy is basically instituting a ‘taking’ as he is certainly devaluing the properties in the area. I think he owes them some cash, as they will never be able to sell their homes.

  • natalie

    i think he as a owner of the property should have the right to express himself under the first admendment. Looking at it as artistic person find his sculpture to be very beautiful. Obviously the people who responded before dont know the first thing about art, nor about the first admendment.

  • Ed

    This is a clear violation of the person’s right to free speech/expression. That lying judge should be laughed right off the bench…

  • Ed

    So, you found it!

  • CEF

    Since this is art of a holocaust survivor, I’m sure if you look hard, you can see chaos, flames, explosion, ruin, loss of life. If one thinks about what the holocaust was, this tells a story.