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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 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 , 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 , 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.

kathleen fergus March 28, 2012 at 07:41 PM
“In my opinion, there are only two real religions that have holidays during this season – Christianity and [Judaism],” said Donald Phillips What world does this guy live in?
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 28, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Religious displays seem to constantly spark debate and controversies in Leesburg. Would you rather keep the displays up each year and just deal with it or would you rather do away with the displays in order to omit any future issues?
kathleen fergus March 28, 2012 at 08:12 PM
I would be happy to see the displays, each year. The problem is, some of the people who have been putting up displays, have been using the opportunity to poke fun at different religions. ie: the skeleton on a cross, from last year. Unfortunately, there is no way of regulating that the displays remain respectful, as this is a matter of perception.
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 28, 2012 at 08:18 PM
So you would rather keep the displays and prepare for the comments, poking, etc. rather than do away with them completely in order to keep the peace. I'm definitely not taking sides. Just curious :)
Michael from Purcellville March 28, 2012 at 08:29 PM
There's plenty of private land on which displays for anything regarding religion can be erected. I don't see why it's so important that the courthouse lawn remain open to religious displays considering the usage and endorsement issues involved. I'm for just keeping the displays off the courthouse lawn year-round.
kathleen fergus March 28, 2012 at 08:31 PM
The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the side of removing the displays. I think that the insults to different religions could result in more than just comments. People are very protective of their beliefs. Is there any way that there can be parameters around what is allowed and not allowed, I wonder?
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 28, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Good questions Kathleen! I will try to look into this for you.
Realist March 28, 2012 at 09:21 PM
This proposed policy is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I predict someone will sue in about two minutes, and there's no hope the County policy will be upheld. This is clearly discriminatory to the non-religious as well as the non-Judeo-Christians. Wake up and just ban the things.
Jim Barnes March 28, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Under the old policy, individuals or groups would apply to erect their own displays. Since the Board of Supervisors has indicated that the county government would sponsor the display under the new policy, there wouldn’t need to be parameters for the public to follow. But the Courts Grounds and Facilities Committee could make recommendations as to what types of displays the county should have. They will probably discuss issues like this at their next meeting on April 24.
Kat DeMille March 29, 2012 at 12:45 AM
If the point of Atheist is the absence of anything then the mission has been met. Greenery is being displayed which is the absence of any meaning- as with respect to those who also celebrate their own beliefs in that time i.e. Christianity, Judaism etc. If Atheist choose to sue then they are choosing to sue for the sake of suing which just shows their true colors.
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Here is a message, which was posted on Facebook today: This decision would take us right back to where we were before. I see lawsuits in 3...2...1... Just keep the religious displays off the courthouse lawn. Period. Put up a huge wreath on the front door and be done with it! Other municipalities are laughing at the BOS' inability to get a handle on this issue once and for all. If you google winter religious holidays, you'll find many more than just Christian and Jewish. I'd like to know the religious make up of the committee who came up with this recommendation. Can your reporter find that out for us? To some, It may seem like an intrusive or irrelevant question, but if Mr. Donald is claiming that Christianity and Judism are the only "real" religious holidays worthy of displays, then it's worth looking into. -Terri Seiter Azie, Facebook
Neil March 29, 2012 at 12:02 PM
How about we just stick to seperation of church and state and leave the religious displays elsewhere. By allowing displays of any kind, you are just inviting more of the nonsense we have seen the past few years.
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I don't mind which religion someone practices but I do feel that we should probably leave our displays at home. It would really limit the attacks, I feel.
RE Kennedy March 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM
OMIT!!!!! It's ridiculous for the government to continue to propogate ANY regligion. My tax dollars should not go (even $1) to any religious symbolism! Further, there are over 300 holidays in the Hindu religion alone. If we count all the religions in America and allow true freedom of expression, then we should open the lawn for any religion on any of their holidays. At their expense of course!
NemNem March 29, 2012 at 02:58 PM
“In my opinion, there are only two real religions that have holidays during this season – Christianity and [Judaism],” said Donald Phillips. Really? What about Yule, celebrated by Wiccans and Pagans on the day of Winter Solstice? It is a federal recognized religion, therefore not including it would be discrimination. (In 1985, Dettmer v Landon (617 F Supp 592) the District Court of Virginia pursuant to rule 52 (a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ruled that Witchcraft is a legitimate religion and falls within a recognizable religious category In 1986 in the Federal Appeals court fourth circuit.) Do you see what only allowing TWO faiths could lead to? I say just ban them all. Simple.
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Facebook message: How is the courthouse lawn any different government-wise from the National Christmas Tree area in DC? They have the trees, a creche and a Menorah and that is all that I have ever seen when we go there. Why do all the other so called religious or non-religious groups have to sue Loudoun County when they would just be following the lead of the Federal Govt? Just wondering why they don't want their displays there but want it here in Leesburg? -Sharon Matlack
WandaLackey March 29, 2012 at 04:05 PM
OMIT! I consider myself religious but religious displays on government property? Does this violate separation of church & state? Also, why can't the religious organizations display their holiday representations on THEIR property for all to enjoy? I think this would quell the comments and contain the affrontment to both religious and secular organizations. Wanda Lackey
kathleen fergus March 29, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Sure it violates separation of church & state, but that is only enforced when convenient. Rick Santorum violates church & state every time he opens his stupid mouth, but he still gains support.
Publius1371 March 29, 2012 at 07:37 PM
If it were something you cared about, you'd feel it cowardice to "do away with" it merely to omit any future issues. Can't you see how shouting and threats of legal action and being called names only emboldens those who want the displays up? Again, pretend for a moment it were something you were in favor of rather than something you loathe, and ask yourself if someone suggesting you take it all down to avoid controversey would convince you.
Publius1371 March 29, 2012 at 07:42 PM
To Michael and to Leah: Just as you two are in favor of "anything regarding religion" being put somewhere else, I would prefer it on the courthouse lawn. Our two opposing sides will continue to fight this, and my side will not give in willingly. Just keep in mind that just as you think it so important to forbid it, my side thinks it so important merely to allow it.
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 07:42 PM
I'm a very religious person but I'm not one to go around and promote it to the entire community. If one religion can do it then every religion should be able to. And with that comes the chance of other people knocking what you practice because the beliefs are so different. Hence the huge debate. My advice is to practice your religion at home or in church. Not on courthouse grounds. I know some readers are going to disagree on that but again just my opinion.
Publius1371 March 29, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Authoritarian much?
Leah M. Kosin (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Publius1371...I am not saying that we should forbid it. I have no problem placing a Nativity scene outside for everyone to see it. I just feel like a courthouse lawn isn't the place to do it...especially if all it will do is cause a HUGE debate.
Philo Publius April 12, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Publius1371, yes, both sides will continue to fight it, but when it comes down to it, your side is going to lose because that pesky First Amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is going to trump you. If you want to live somewhere where the government and religion are intermingled, I can suggest any number of countries (Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, ... ) but not America.
Philo Publius April 12, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Publius1371, your choice of pseudonym is rather inappropriate. "Cato" or "Brutus" might make more sense, given your displayed political positions.
Philo Publius April 12, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Wikipedia has a well-researched article on this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Christmas_Tree). I wanted to quote from it but the text was too large for this comment form. For starters, the National Christmas Tree is part of the Pageant of Peace, which is run by a non-profit organization of the same name, NOT the Federal Government. It takes place on land managed by the National Park Service, NOT the grounds of the Supreme Court. For full details on the legal issues, see (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Christmas_Tree#Legal_issues).

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