Holiday Display Headed for a Lawsuit?

Board of Supervisors will probably face litigation if it approves religious displays at courthouse.

The Loudoun County appears to be headed toward a lawsuit over the contents of a Christmas display on the courthouse grounds. But why?

Why do some of the board members seem determined to pick this fight when it is not likely that they will win? At the very least, a legal battle will bring Loudoun more unwanted attention and cost thousands of taxpayer dollars.

As it stands now, the Board’s that will include a crèche (Christian nativity scene), menorah, Christmas tree, Santa Claus with reindeer and holiday greenery. This is also the (CGFC).

The board is expected to vote on this issue at its July 17 meeting.

There does not appear to be any problem with the secular components of the display—the Christmas tree, Santa or greenery. The problem is with the religious symbols—the crèche and menorah.

On April 24, Rick Wingrove, a member of American Atheists, to him and his group, but that they would actively oppose overtly religious displays on the courthouse grounds. Citing several court decisions, he said that the county “will be sued and they will lose” if it puts up a nativity scene. He predicted that the ensuing legal proceedings would cost the county $2 million.

I believe Wingrove when he says the county will be sued, and I agree that the county would probably lose that suit. . The government simply should not be in the business of acquiring and erecting religious symbols like a crèche or menorah.

I attended all of the CGFC’s meetings in which this issue was discussed, and I understand how the committee arrived at this recommendation.

Many of the committee members were new to the committee this year, and all were appointed by the current Board of Supervisors.

The committee did not start with a blank slate, but with marching orders from the Board of Supervisors to come up with a plan for a courthouse display modeled after the holiday display on the Ellipse in Washington, DC, which includes a nativity scene, menorah and the National Christmas Tree.

They were also armed with an opinion by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli saying that a display with a mix of religious and secular symbols would be acceptable.

But there are a couple of problems with this approach.

First, the federal government does not store, maintain or erect the national display on the Ellipse. In response to a 1968 lawsuit, the National Park Service turned those responsibilities over to a nonprofit organization, the Pageant of Peace Inc. Under the plan the Board of Supervisors is currently considering, the county would acquire, erect and maintain the entire holiday display, including the nativity scene and menorah.

Also, an opinion from Cuccinelli must be taken in context. As Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney recently pointed out, Cuccinelli’s track record in several high profile lawsuits has been woeful.

Cuccinelli filed fruitless lawsuits challenging the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Environmental Protection Agency and a University of Virginia climate change researcher. His quixotic crusades have made him the darling of right-wing Republicans and made him the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination—at the expense of state resources and tax dollars.

If Cuccinelli’s opinion regarding the courthouse display leads Loudoun County into costly litigation, Loudoun taxpayers, not Cuccinelli, will pay the price.

It will be interesting to see if the Board of Supervisors pays as much attention to the opinion of County Attorney Jack Roberts, whose responsibility is to provide legal advice to the board.

After Roberts met in closed session with the CGFC, the committee stuck to its guns on its plan, although one member, Roy Liggett, , in the interest of avoiding a lawsuit.

When CGFC chair Clint Good presented his committee’s recommendation to the finance committee, Broad Run District Supervisor Shawn Williams asked if the recommendation was consistent with the advice of the county attorney. Good twice refused to answer the question. If the answer had been “yes,” I have no doubt that he would have said so. In effect, his silence answered the question.

Williams, an attorney—and a Christian—clearly gets it. He has stated that this is a battle he does not want to fight. We will soon find out if the other supervisors line up with him, or if they stubbornly dig in their heels and continue on a path toward costly, embarrassing litigation.

Dave July 08, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Cicinelli, advisory committee, board of supervisors, all the amateur constitutional lawyers...what about some attention to the loudoun judges who expressed their unanimous opinion to the board of supervisors last year that there should be no religious displays on the courthouse grounds!
joe brewer July 08, 2012 at 10:15 PM
A government building paid for by tax dollars which there will soon be fewer of because of Ken Reid and his Judas touch. Seperate chuch and state, simple enough. It's a work building not a centerpiece for a holiday. Keep the crap off the lawn and out of the building.
Moishe Wheresken July 09, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Kristen, I would think that the fact that the committee received advise from the County Attorney during a private session automatically would preclude the discussions that took place during that session from being recorded as minutes and then published for all to see. Your comment is suggesting otherwise. When the Board of Supervisors goes into a closed session, the results of those private sessions are never publicized either. And exactly what is meant by "top cover?" This is a term I am not familiar with. Jim: If lawyer-supervisor Williams knew the answer to the question he had posed to Mr. Good, (as you once again are ASS-UMING) why the heck would he have asked it? Does he enjoy putting people on the spot? Is that the role that a County Supervisor is supposed to play? It seems kind of hypocritical to me that you take such a sanctimonious style posture when it comes to protecting your "private sources", but yet seem to challenge Mr. Good in his similar action regarding a "privacy" issue. Unless you are willing to present concrete proof or real facts rather than conjecture, you should refrain from doing so, for all you are serving to do is to sway the public's thinking on this subject to conform with your stand, and that methodology is WRONG whether Jim Barnes is For or Against the inclusion of religious displays. Perhaps you need to adopt the very same code of ethics that Mr. Good did in handling supervisor Williams "loaded?" question.
Kristen H July 09, 2012 at 12:46 PM
I was referring to the minutes for the public part of the session, which I attended. To explain what "top cover" means, I will give you the context in which it was used. In a discussion about whether they needed a menorah or could get away with just a creche, a supervisor stated that they might need the menorah as "top cover" to avoid a lawsuit. Meaning that the menorah, rather than being displayed out of respect to Loudoun County's Jewish population, was discussed in the context of this meeting as simply a legal shield so that they could put up their nativity scene.
Ruth July 09, 2012 at 11:49 PM
I wish to comment about Dave Butler's line of reasoning by asking him if he thinks that by Congress having "established" Christmas Day as a national holiday, did that act not represent a "religious preference" by our government in direct violation of the Constitution? Also, what is this talk about celebrating this end of the year solstice event? I never saw a card in a Hallmark store that says: "Happy Winter Solstice," have you? Is this what you and your family celebrated when your were growing up, Dave? Was your home decorated with artificial snowballs? That aside, I wish to state that I am totally in favor with Moishe's desire to see Hanukah made an official US Holiday just like was done for Christmas.


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