Bedrock for disagreement

Convenants: A frederick County homeowner and her neighbors are at odds over stones with religious sayings in her yard.

October 15, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A collection of rocks inscribed with religious slogans in Joanne Caldwell's front yard has set up this confrontation: religion vs. neighborhood rules.

Caldwell, who lives near New Market in Frederick County, says the rocks were divine inspiration. The Lake Linganore community association says they're unsightly and must be removed or Caldwell will face stiff fines.

Lined up in front of her house in the 6500 block of Edgewood Road, the rocks proclaim Caldwell's Christian faith: "Love Jesus Forever" and "Mary's Special Blessing" are written in marker on two groupings of stones. Others are scattered near her front door.

"The yard's just plain unsightly," said Clarence Muse, a neighbor in the community of cul-de-sacs, manicured lawns and wood-frame houses worth about $150,000.

Christie Hughes, who works for the homeowners group, said Caldwell was cited for the overall condition of her property, because it violated covenants that prohibit "noxious or offensive things."

Caldwell said that even though the 30-day deadline for removing the rocks expired yesterday and the 2,000-member community association could fine her hundreds of dollars, she has no immediate plans to remove them.

She has not discussed the issue with the community association or consulted a lawyer.

She is looking to the heavens for help.

"I'll do whatever God tells me to do," she said.

Neighbors say that is typical for Caldwell, a self-described evangelical Christian who has filled her three-bedroom home with religious paintings, statues and photographs.

"It's a violation of the Ten Commandments and of my constitutional right to practice my religion," said Caldwell, 49, a former federal worker.

Neighbors say that religion is not the issue, that they want Caldwell to clean up her yard.

"I don't have a problem with the rocks, and I don't have a problem with her religion, but she never cuts her grass," Muse said.

Caldwell says she does the best she can to keep her grass cut by using an electric weed cutter.

She has lived in the neighborhood for six years and said she began placing rocks around her yard and inscribing them with a black marker about a year ago. Some are the size of a loaf of bread; others are about as big as a briefcase.

The inspiration came to her when an image of the Holy Spirit appeared before her while she was praying over her 10-year-old son one night, she said.

Caldwell keeps a makeshift, glass-encased altar in her living room, wears rosary beads around her neck and has a scrapbook of handwritten notes that she says are transcribed messages from God.

During a 30-minute interview yesterday, she spoke rapidly of messages from Mary and Jesus, and fell on her knees twice to show the effects of God's power over her life.

"I'm crazy for God, but I'm not crazy," she said.

Hughes said Caldwell's case will be decided in the next few months by the association's board of directors. Sometimes residents are warned two or three times before action is taken.

"We try to work with the homeowners as much as possible," she said.

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