A couple in The Villages being sued by their community development district board maintain they answered a religious call for a “small cross in millions of front yards” when they ran afoul of a deed restriction.
The white cross, which still stands in the front yard of Wayne and Bonnie Anderson in the Village of Tamarind Grove, was the subject of a Zoom hearing Wednesday afternoon in front of Judge William Hallman III in Sumter County Court.
The Andersons have vehemently refused to remove the little white cross which is considered a lawn ornament and therefore a violation of deed compliance rules. The Andersons are facing thousands of dollars in fines because of their stance. Their case could have ramifications for the thousands of homeowners in The Villages with little white crosses on display. Those crosses remain in place because there have been no complaints. The Andersons were the target of an anonymous complaint.
Attorney Keith Arago argued in the hearing that the Andersons were heeding a religious call when they placed the cross in their yard. The Andersons, who are members of St. Timothy Catholic Church in The Villages, saw the message in a Knights of Columbus brochure calling for a “small cross in millions of front yards” across the country.
Arago said the couple interpreted it as a “specific instruction” and elected to put the small cross in their front yard.
“It wasn’t a side yard. It wasn’t some place out of sight. It was the front yard,” he said.
Arago also pointed out The Villages does not enforce deed restrictions unless there is a complaint lodged. He alleged that has brought about the type of “selective enforcement” which victimized the Andersons.
“There are certain members of the community who have targeted religious persons displaying religious artifacts,” Arago said.
John Janousek of the Roper Law Firm in Orlando, representing the Community Development District 8 Board of Supervisors, rebuffed the argument.
“They are trying to show it is somehow religiously motivated. It’s just not there. It’s something a lay organization (within the church) asked them to do,” Janousek said.
Near the end of the hearing, it was noted that the Andersons’ attorney had specific items from the University of Notre Dame on display behind him. Arago proudly pointed out that one of the items was from the team’s 1988 national championship and was signed by Coach Lou Holtz.
The judge noted he has respect for Holtz, who in 2020 was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump.
The CDD 8 Board of Supervisors is seeking a dismissal of the case. Hallman said his decision on the motion for the dismissal will need some “analysis and details.” The judge promised he would have his decision, “Soon.”