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Less Light, More Heat: Copeland Says Xmas Lights Fight Not Over

March 4, 1986 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court has doused fried chicken king Al Copeland’s bid to re-illuminate his home’s opulent, 400,000-light Christmas display, so he’s taking the fight to the state Legislature.

″We are going to ask them to exclude Christmas as a nuisance,″ Copeland said Monday. ″Hopefully, the Legislature will vote that Christmas is not a nuisance.″

The high court, without comment Monday, let stand lower court rulings that Copeland, founder of the Popeyes fried chicken empire, had to dismantle his spectacular Christmas display.

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Neighbors have complained that the annual display draws up to 350,000 spectators each year to the fashionable neighborhood in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.

If he fails in the Legislature, Copeland said, he still has an offer to buy out the neighbor who filed the original suit that led to the court ruling.

He said he understood why he lost before the Supreme Court.

″I suppose missile cases, satellite cases, and the deficit in the budget are much more important than the constitutional rights of some man with Christmas tree lights,″ he said. ″I certainly understand that.

″The thing that really bothers me about it is I don’t feel it’s fair to take one man’s constitutional rights from him and tell him he can’t put up Christmas lights.″

Copeland spends up to $50,000 a year to build the display, which last December included a three-story high snowman and two-story angels.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ordered Copeland to remove some of the oversized lighted figures, such as the snowman and reindeer, but allowed him to keep religious symbols, including a Nativity scene and the lighted angels.

When Copeland moved some of the figures to the homes of neighbors willing to take part, attorney Burton Klein, a neighbor who objected to the maneuver, went to court again.

″This case was not a question of Christmas or Christmas lights,″ Klein said. ″It’s a question of what’s right and what’s wrong.″

Jefferson Parish Judge Alvin Rudy Eason said Copeland was ″obviously in contempt″ of the state Supreme Court ruling.

The state Supreme Court agreed and ordered Copeland to dismantle displays on his and his neighbors’ property or go to prison and pay $500 a day in fines.