In the United States, unless you have signed some sort of housing covenant which states otherwise, you are free to paint your home any way you like. I’ve seen a home painted black, red, and yellow; another painted pink; a third painted pink with purple polka dots; and a fourth done in an eye-blindingly bright blue. My good friends’ home is painted in “Chatroom” with “Hardware” accents, and “Enigma” on the door — not that the names give you any clue what these colors are. (It looks good.) Why, painting your home is as American as apple pie and all that, right? A veritable cornerstone of an American’s right to free expression. So where does some judge in Connecticut get off telling a guy how to paint his home?
Well, like most things in life, there’s a little bit more to the story.
You see, Christopher Seekins was arrested last year for possession of about 100 marijuana plants. I’m not sure what it was that tipped off the cops, but I imagine it’s some evil government surveillance satellite scanning people’s traffic patterns to discover who makes late-night trips to pick up munchies. When confronted with the evidence of his crime, Dr. Richard Kimble’s response was, “It wasn’t me. It was the one-armed man!” Wait, wrong set of notes. Ah, here it is: Christopher Seekins’ response was that the pot was really “hemp,” and that he was using it as part of his research project. Sure. I think I liked the first bit of fiction better.
Protesting his arrest, Seekins proceeded to paint some marijuana leaves on his house, along with the word “hemp.” Townspeople complained because Seekins’ home is visible from the main street. If we just left the story at this point, Seekins could still claim that it was within his right of free expression to paint his home as he saw fit, and he’d be right. The State could have given him some jail time for drug possession, but since Seekins pleaded guilty, the court’s decision was to give him three years’ probation with the following stipulations: no more illegal drug use or possession, 300 hours of community service, painting over the leaves on his house, and not painting them back on. While the ABC News story doesn’t mention it, I’m sure the judge whispered in Seekins’ ear that he could either willingly paint over his home and enjoy probation, or he could make a stand on his free speech rights and enjoy some time in jail.
In the unlikely event that I were in Seekins’ place, I think I would make the same decision.