Growing up in a small town, I learned early on that the front porch is the meeting place for friends, family and neighbors. Some were elaborate; literally extensions of the home itself, welcoming and homey. Wicker chairs, porch swings and plants only added to the purpose. Others were used more for storage, with snow shovels, tools and garbage cans littering the area. Still, no matter what the aesthetic, porches were always used as a place to gather.
Recently, in Zeeland, Michigan, about an hour away from here, city officials have introduced new legislation that would regulate what is allowed on porches in the small town. In an effort to keep porches strictly as meeting places and less as a means for storage, the legislation would regulate exactly what is and is not allowed on people's porches. So far, the legislation calls for no more than one grill, two bicycles and one snow shovel. Also, any furniture on the porch has to be arranged in such a way that it is conducive to social interaction.
The fine for violating this ordinance would be $400.
The legislation also places restrictions on what is allowed in enclosed porches. According to this proposed legislation, nothing may be higher than the bottom of a window and any books or "knick-knacks" must not be placed directly in front of the window.
This legislation is not the first of its kind. Earlier this month, a 70-year-old woman in Utah was arrested for failing to comply with a city ordinance that stated she must water her lawn. The woman hadn't watered her lawn in over a year, and wouldn't have been able to afford the water bill. She spent the morning in jail before it was decided that she should be released.
A man in White Cloud, Michigan also spent a weekend in jail because his lawn didn't have grass on it. The judge gave him two weeks to make the lawn presentable before anymore jail time would have been necessary. He has been fighting the court system, to no avail.
One of the great things about America is the right to own private property and do whatever one wishes as long as one is not breaking the law. However, these ordinances do not allow for that. Before we know it, there will be ordinances regulating what colors we can paint our houses and what kind of flowers we're allowed to plant.
I can understand an ordinance for those who pile up their porch with clutter and trash of no redeeming value. I would not agree with it, but I could understand it. But, regulating porch clutter? Regulating grass? Seems a bit ridiculous to me.
While it is a great ideal to have every single home (and yard) look neat, clean and orderly, it is not a requirement for living. When one buys a home, he or she is buying not only the house, but the right to do with that property as he or she wishes. One can plant gardens, fix up cars, or simply trash the place if one so desires. The neighbors might not necessarily like it, but it does not mean that the people in question do not have the right to do exactly what they want in terms of their homes.
The part of these stories that repulses me the most is probably the fact that the court system is backing them up. There is no need to have to pay a fine or even go to jail simply because one chooses not to waste water on a lawn. There is no need to have to pay $400 simply for having three bikes on a porch instead of two. These people are not criminals and the fact that they are being treated as such is abhorrent to me. Go after the murderers, the rapists, the burglars. But, going after the townspeople simply for not watering their lawn or for not keeping their porch "clutter-free"? That is where it crosses the line.
A public hearing for the Zeeland ordinance will be held August 6. Let us hope that the people of Zeeland will stand up for their personal property rights and not allow this ordinance to pass. If this does pass, just imagine what other absurd ordinances people will come up with.
This is typical of bored city officials with nothing better to do than ponder the great crises of our times: how many bikes should be allowed on the front porches of their constituents? It is absurd that government takes it upon itself to arbitrarily limit and impose sanctions on what individuals choose to do with their private property.
Even if the porches were being cluttered to the extreme and destroying property values for neighbors (although placing books on a window doesn't appear to fit that bill), government still need not intervene as the situation is handled better by individuals.
Government regulations on our lives and property not only fail virtually always to make us better off, but they restrict our freedoms. Regulations on the composition and arrangement of one's porch may seem to be fairly low on the list when compared to other resections our government has imposed on our lives and property, however when we allow the first domino of our freedoms to fall we can be assured that many more are to follow. A slippery slope greased with trans fat bans will push us further down the road to serfdom. Never mind your porch; government can steal your house! The government already kills thousands per year through FDA restrictions. Unintended consequences of government regulations leave us less safe. Many leading Democrats even want government to take away our freedom over health coverage through socialized health care.
The complacency of allowing government to run our lives and restrict our freedoms must end. Freedoms are freedoms; just because it is something seemingly inconsequential such as a ban on trans fatty acids is fundamentally no different than a ban on health care choice. I am of the opinion that it is government’s sole purpose to enhance our freedoms. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke of this during his visit to Western’s campus last year. It would seem that this singular fundamental purpose has been lost on many of the politicians of today. Let it not be forgotten.