Committee Debates Holiday Display Components
Straw votes are taken on which displays to include on courthouse grounds in December.
Santa and the baby Jesus are in, but Frosty is out ... for now. The fate of the Menorah and Christmas angels are yet to be determined.
The Loudoun County Courts Grounds and Facilities Committee (CGFC) on April 24 discussed the components that should go into a government-owned holiday display on the courthouse property, and took straw votes on several proposed display items.
The biggest disagreement was over whether to include a Jewish Menorah as part of the display.
Committee member John Mileo argued that the county was best protected from legal challenges by limiting the display items to those that “pay homage to Christmas,” such as a crèche, Christmas tree and Santa Claus.
“Christmas Day is the only holiday occurring during the month of December or during the so-called holiday season that has been officially established as a federal holiday, which is also celebrated by our state and county,” Mileo said.
Attempting to recognize other holidays “would surely open up the floodgates to inclusion of the type of offensive displays that have been displayed in the past,” he said.
Robert Lynd argued that according to an opinion issued by Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, the crèche would only be permissible if it were balanced by other religious and secular displays, such as a Menorah. He said the county would therefore be on more solid legal ground by including it.
In a series of straw votes, the committee voted unanimously in favor of a crèche, Christmas tree and holiday greenery. By a 5-3 vote, the committee voted to keep the Menorah, pending an opinion by the county attorney. However, the committee voted against having a snowman.
Mileo proposed that the county’s crèche be limited to “the baby Jesus in the manger, the Virgin Mother and Father Joseph on either side, and three farm animals.”
He recommended that the crèche be as plain as possible, “not an overly religious-looking crèche," and suggested that angels not be included.
For the most part, the committee members appeared to be unfazed after Rick Wingrove, a member of American Atheists, addressed them at the beginning of the meeting.
Wingrove said a secular holiday tree would be acceptable to him and his group, but they would actively oppose overtly religious displays on the courthouse grounds.
“The county simply cannot put up a Nativity scene,” he said, citing several court decisions. “They will be sued and they will lose.” He predicted the ensuing legal proceedings would cost the county $2 million.
Later, during the committee’s discussion, Mileo said, “I heard Mr. Wingrove refer to it as a holiday tree,” he said, his voice rising. “It is a Christmas tree.”
Mileo also cited court decisions in support of his recommendation.
Earlier this month, members of the Board of Supervisors’ Finance/Government Services and Operations Committee recommended that the County Attorney attend future CGFC meetings. However, no one from the county attorney’s office was present for the April 24 meeting.