Lynn v. Sekulow

Lynn v. Sekulow

Are Marshmallow Peeps Religious Icons?

I have a certain endearing respect for Peeps, those marshmallow creations which used to be seen solely in the form of chickens and rabbits at Easter but now have a ubiquitous presence during every holiday period.  The creatures come from the Just Born candy company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the place I grew up.  (Even earlier, during the Depression, my father swept floors at the company.)

Now, Peeps are playing a role, admittedly a supporting one, in a strange “religious liberty” case in Colorado. As reported in a local newspaper, Carol Burdick was evicted from her apartment for keeping her Easter decorations on her door 17 days after Easter, an alleged violation of her lease provision to keep all areas under the tenant’s control “in a clean and sanitary condition.” Her display included cardboard cutouts of chickens and rabbits, some plastic grass, and some Peeps.  Later this week she will argue that the leasing company violated Ms. Burdick’s religious freedom.  Her lawyer noted: “You can’t evict somebody for Easter bunny decorations.  An Easter decoration is a religious statement and should be protected– even if it is just bunnies.”


This poses an interesting question, Jay, for which I need your response.  If Ms. Burdick thinks Easter candy and rabbit stickers are a symbol of her religious committment, is that all it takes to make a threshold argument that your religious liberty has been violated?  If so, should this claim trump the landlord’s desire to keep a litter-free apartment complex?  Further, since the landlord allows decorations up for some period, can he define the length of time they are allowed up when a tenant wishes to keep them up longer?  Would it make a difference if there were no Peeps in the display since arguably they could “go bad” as most foods do (although I have personally never seen a Peep I couldn’t eat, no matter how old)?


Is this actually important?  I’d say it raises some intriguing questions about  freedom of speech, freedom of religion, how “religion” is defined by courts, and how exercising one’s faith can have an impact on others.  Personally, I’m hoping that Ms. Burdick prevails–at least on a claim of “freedom from stupidity” if not “freedom of religion”.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

As another person with Bethlehem, PA roots (via Lehigh University) I always enjoyed various peeps, even though I’m not christian. There are a number of interesting issues raised here. Apartments and even housing developments have the right to require adherence to certain covenants as part of an agreement to live there. There was a famous case in Virginia a few years ago where a resident of a housing development of private homes erected three 25 foot flagpoles to fly an American and two other flags. The development sued saying that the poles disrupted the aesthetics and were in violation of the agreement signed when the owners moved in. The owner claimed first amendment protection of freedom of expression and claimed that the homeowner’s association was being un-American.
The development’s homeowner’s association won and the flagpoles were removed and the owner had to pay legal fees. The principle here is that when you agree to abide by certain rules when you move into a development, they are legally binding because you had a choice to not live there and you signed the agreement. The other point is that the association did not prohibit flying flags, just having poles of certain size.
In this case the issue appears not to be the religious nature of the display, but aesthetics. While I may disagree about the rule regarding displays, it seems to me that the apartment complex should have the right to maintain a clean and neat environment, and that would include religious displays. The fact that the tenant claims this is a religious display is irrelevant. Her right to worship is not being violated. On the other hand, there is a good question as to what constitutes a religious display, and what this person had up doesn’t seem to fit that designation. But even if it contained crosses, which would clearly be religious in nature, I think the complex should have the right to limit the durations of displays in common areas.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm

A part of this discussion is just how long is Easter celebrated. Easter is both a day and a season. For some the Easter season runs for 50 days, to Pentecost. Could she not make a case for having the decorations for the entire season? Advent precedes Christmas – can these authroities mandate no lights until Christmas night? Christmas Season is 12 days long – when must the decorations be taken down? What about allowances for orthodox celebrations on different than the culturally assigned days?
There is a bit of equivocation for the religious aspect of the holiday. Bunnies, chicks, and even “peeps” are not exactly scriptural (but then neither is my beloved Easter Platypus – but that’s part of my point). They do represnt our cultural (secular) understanding of “Easter”. However these Celtic additions to the Christian celebration are not precisely religious in the strictest sense. A clever lawyer may try to make this point.
Finally, there are those folks who leave their Christmas lights up past Valentines Day and their Easter stuff up to memorial Day. At what point can a landlord or a tenants association say it is time to de-decorate. Striking a balance is always a shifting dynamic, and some felxibility and understanding is required by all parties

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posted June 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I imagines Atheists should have the right to maintain displays on all those days that aren’t religious?

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posted June 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm

… an alleged violation of her lease provision to keep all areas under the tenant’s control “in a clean and sanitary condition.”
The lady needs to take her decorations down. She signed the lease. Then she violated the lease. Why should it matter at all that she claims her decorations are religious in nature? She did not keep her area clean and sanitary.
True, the landlord is saying what he considers to be clean and sanitary, but he does own the building. He has the right to say that. Once his wishes were known to her, she should have taken the decorations down asap.
On the other hand, if other tenants are allowed to decorate their doors, she has a case.

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posted June 22, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Dumb and dumber. They asked her to remove the decorations and she refused. She’s lucky they didn’t back up a moving van that same day and move her into the street. One thing for sure: Boulder County can never again claim its courts are overloaded. And the judge that allowed this to go to a jury trial, which will unnecessarily cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars, should be censured and the attorney who brought this suit as a First Amendment issue should be disbarred for filing a truly frivolous lawsuit, which is a clear violation of the Colorado Bar Association code of conduct.

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Cara Floyd

posted June 22, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Peeps, is that what they are trying to say a fetus is? Some sort of strange matter, a blob of tissue.
This has been the argument for years, right?
The blob of tissue v. the human being
If it were just a blob of tissue than let it grow. What’s your fear, could it be having to provide for it? Or go through the pregnancy?
Cara Floyd

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posted June 22, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Leave it to Cara to draw a connection between candy and her favorite subject abortion. Do you ever think about anything besides other people having sex Cara?

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posted June 23, 2009 at 7:26 am

Typical of Americans United – obscure the whole story while grandstanding on religion. The referenced article mentions religion only once, and it gets the full attention of this blog. What about the overwhelming support from the other residents, the comment cards that were distributed, and her Lupis? No, these issues obviously take the backseat even though they are given more attention than the “religious” statement.
How about we blog on real constitutional matters pertaining to faith, not disputes over decorations between a landlord and a tenant?

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Cara Floyd

posted June 23, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I think not. People, yes they are people. I would not say that abortion is my favorite subject, by any standards. In fact, I think it is one of my least favorite subjects. The reason why I post so many blogs on the subject is this: Those people need to be defended, seeing how it is a right in our Constitution.
Posterity rights,
p.s. It is interesting to note that I have read other blogs of people acting as if they are a peep they can suck out of the womb. Candy, I think not.

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N. Lindzee Lindholm

posted June 25, 2009 at 12:34 am

Being somewhat prone to late night snacking especially after taking a short run in 88 degree heat, all this talk about Peeps is making me hungry. I do have to agree with Ms. Burdick that Peeps are almost too cute to eat.
To be quite honest with you, Rev. Barry, I am having a little difficulty myself in determining how a college of “cardboard cutouts of chickens and rabbits, some plastic grass, and some Peeps” could be religious. Nonetheless, maybe she is into animal worship. Let’s face it: animal worship can be traced way back to the ancient Egyptians who paid homage to almost every ordinary animal. Moreover, this practice is also prominent in theriomorphic religions in which an animal represented a sacred power of a deity. If this was Ms. Burdick’s intent, then she has a case for violation of First Amendment rights.
Now, does anyone have any extra Peeps they can spare since Rev. Barry claims that Peeps have an extra long shelf life?

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