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”.