Near my parents’ home is a house that goes all out for Halloween. From the beginning of October, their entire front yard becomes this giant display of fake coffins, spooky music, amusing tombstones, and volunteers in makeup acting out various scary characters. It’s something I look forward to seeing each year, and there’s a reason a long line of cars can be seen most evenings in an otherwise quiet area.
When I went by the house a couple of weeks ago, the owners mentioned that they may have to shut it all down in the future. That’s because a neighbor didn’t like all the cars that were parked on the side of the street for weeks on end. In some cases, the road was so clogged up that it became difficult to back out of his own driveway. After a complaint to city officials, the Halloween home may have to shut down next year… or hire local cops to direct traffic, an expense that would likely derail the whole just-for-fun project.
That’s what came to mind when I heard about Thomas Apruzzi‘s Christmas display in Old Bridge, New Jersey. The 70,000-Christmas light extravaganza, synchronized with music, has been going on for 15 years and it keeps getting bigger, attracting up to 1,000 visitors a night at this point. It was even featured on the ABC show “The Great Christmas Light Fight” in 2014, leading to even more interest in what he had created.
No wonder neighbors have gotten concerned. There’s overcrowding on the streets, and one resident even said she worried that emergency services couldn’t get to her sick father if something happened on a winter evening.
This week, local officials told Apruzzi that he has to pay $2,000 a night for police to manage the situation.
That fee would include the cost of paying officers overtime for the evening, moveable light posts to light the street, and fuel to power the movable light posts.
Auxiliary police officers, who were not trained in crowd control, patrolled the area free of charge in previous years, Henry said. But each year, the crowds on the narrow, 24-foot wide road grew. Attendees parked on both sides of the road and walked in the middle, creating unsafe conditions, Township Administrator Himanshu Shah said.
Even if viewers park at a local school and get shuttled in to see his home, Apruzzi would have to pay an estimated $1,000 a night to cover the shuttles.
Apruzzi’s response to the new payments? This is all just another form of Christian persecution.
“We’re not gonna listen to what the police have to say,” he said. “It is my First Amendment rights, it has to do with my religion.”
Apruzzi said he is Catholic and attends a local church.
This has nothing to do with the First Amendment or his faith. No one cares what he believes. The issue is the chaos he’s intentionally creating through his display. Law enforcement is supposed to keep people safe, and his home is now getting in the way of that, so if he wants to keep the display going, the city says he needs to pony up the costs for the workers they need to send in to manage everything.
It’s not an unreasonable request. And it’s certainly not religious persecution. There’s a GoFundMe campaign to help him cover the costs, though as of this writing, the money raised wouldn’t even cover one night.
Apruzzi rejects the safety concerns, saying that it’s never been a problem until now. He also claims elected officials are just picking on him since their policies are being selectively enforced.
“We’re only proposing to open 23 days this year,” he said. “It’s 16 hours a week and they want to charge us $8,000 a week to direct people and tell them where to walk. In addition, it will cost me $750 a night for the shuttle service. The mayor doesn’t want to hear anything. He just wants to shut us down.“
I don’t know how this will end, but if Apruzzi ends up suing the city citing a violation of his First Amendment rights, he’s bound to lose.
The lights will be on display, he says, beginning on December 1, regardless of whether or not he raises enough money to cover the cops’ costs.
(Image via GoFundMe. Thanks to Brian for the link)