The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors have approved a policy under which the county will purchase and erect a mix of religious and secular holiday displays on the courthouse grounds in December.
By a 6-2-1 vote, the board voted Monday night to approve a county-sponsored crèche (Christian nativity scene), Jewish menorah, Christmas tree, holiday greenery, and a display featuring Santa Claus and reindeer. The board also approved the size, location and other details of the proposed displays.
In doing so, the board followed the recommendation of the Loudoun County Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee, which spent several months working on the policy.
“There is no easy answer here,” Ashburn District Supervisor Ralph Buona said after making the motion to approve the policy. “Not everybody is going to be happy no matter what the board does with this issue.”
“I think that what we have to do here is look at the will of the people,” Buona said. “We were elected to represent our constituents, and I’m going to listen to them on this issue.”
Broad Run District Supervisor Shawn Williams disagreed, saying that he was motivated by two factors – the reputation of Loudoun County and established law.
“The committee recommendation will continue to make Loudoun a national spectacle of a First Amendment debate on which the law has been well established,” Williams said, adding that he had read all the relevant Supreme Court decisions he could find.
“What those opinions say is that a government body should not endorse one religion over another,” Williams said, adding that he'd prefer a live, decorated evergreen tree along with other holiday greenery instead. “We’re picking and choosing which religions we are endorsing.”
Blue Ridge District Supervisor Janet Clarke offered a substitute motion that the board not approve any seasonal displays.
“I just don’t understand, with all the other business that we have to deal with, why we’re dealing with lawn displays,” Clarke said. “My personal position is to just not have any displays.”
Clarke’s motion failed with only Williams in support.
“The court rulings have created more confusion and muddy waters than anything,” Buona said. “They’re not 100 percent clear.”
He said he felt that the board’s policy would be consistent with the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Buona’s motion to approve the policy passed 6-2-1, with Clarke and Williams opposed and Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins absent.