Religious Displays Might Return to Courthouse Lawn
Committee favors a mix of religious and seasonal holiday displays on courthouse lawn.
Religious displays may be making a return to the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse this December.
The Loudoun County Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee (CGFC), which has been tasked by the Board of Supervisors with creating a plan for a government-sponsored seasonal display, favors a combination of religious and seasonal holiday displays on the lawn.
During its March 27 meeting, the CGFC repeatedly cited an opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, stating that “the county is free to communicate its own recognition of holidays, including Christmas, as long as overtly Christian symbols are balanced with other religious and secular ones in a way that communicates to reasonable, informed observers that the county is not making a religious statement.”
After an hour long discussion, the committee unanimously adopted a motion stating its support for a holiday display that would include a Christmas tree, crèche (Christian nativity scene), Jewish menorah, and holiday greenery, all of which would be acquired by the county.
By placing sponsorship of the display with the county, the CGFC and Board of Supervisors hope to avoid the controversy that has surrounded the courthouse displays for the last two years.
Under the policy that was in effect those years, outside individuals and groups sought county approval to erect their own holiday displays. This led to the traditional nativity scene and Christmas tree being joined by displays erected by atheist groups, social commentators, and groups such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. A satirical display depicting a crucified Santa skeleton, in particular, drew widespread media attention.
Shortly after taking office this year, the new Board of Supervisors voted to temporarily suspend displays on the courthouse lawn and reexamine its policy regarding unattended displays on the courthouse grounds.
During the March 27 discussion, CGFG members quickly agreed that a mixture of holiday displays would be best.
“The crèche alone is no good,” said John Mileo. “If you have a mixture of religious displays along with secular displays, that’s gonna fly.”
Suzanne Fox asked if it would create a problem if some religious groups are excluded from the display. She said that she was concerned about security issues and tensions between religious groups.
CGFG Chairman Clint Good replied, “If any other religion has a celebration during this holiday [period], I would think they are welcome.”
After Roy Liggett reminded the committee members about groups like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Tripp Curtis said, “Those people are gonna be upset no matter what happens.”
“In my opinion, there are only two real religions that have holidays during this season – Christianity and [Judaism],” said Donald Phillips.
“There will be an initial response to whatever the Board of Supervisors does,” added Curtis. “I don’t think that’s gonna continue. It’s gonna stop.”
The CGFC discussed ways of minimizing costs to the county, including accepting donated displays or leasing the displays, perhaps for as little as $1 a year.
Good said that the CGFC needed another month to bring the plan together, and that in the meantime he would talk with the County Attorney to “let him know what we’re thinking.”
He also said that he would talk with county staff to see if it would be necessary for the county to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the holiday displays, although the CGFC subsequently voted in a straw poll that it preferred to avoid the RFP process.
Good is scheduled to give a progress report to the Board of Supervisors’ Finance & Government Operations Committee on April 9.