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Board Approves Religious and Secular Holiday Displays

The county will allow a nativity scene, menorah and secular holiday displays to be placed on the courthouse lawn.

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.

Marcus Aurelius July 19, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Supervisor Williams was on the mark! The BOS has now endorsed Christianity, Judaism, and cultural secularism as the permitted displays during the Christmastime display period on the public County Court House land. All others need not apply. This action would seem to be an act of government that favors the freedom of expression of certain religious groups. I will leave it to Supervisor Williams to cite Constitutional sources, but I think that the BOS has managed to miss the mark again. You can imagine which groups will challenge this!
John Mileo July 20, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Marcus: What the BoS has in fact endorsed (to use your word) is a recommendation made to it by the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee that consists of items for display (both religious and secular) on the courthouse lawn, during the so-called December "Seasonal" or "Holiday" period that pays homage to the only two religious-based holidays that occur during that time frame, one of which (Christmas) also happens to be a federal, state and local government recognized holiday. Accordingly, such action by the BoS should not be viewed as an act that serves to promote or officially endorse one specific holiday over any other. I might add that this is no different than what our federal government in DC does each and every December. I would think it would be most appropriate and logical if members of any other religious sect wishing to have their holiday celebration recognized in a similar manner, arrange to do so by petitioning the particular government body/agency of choice around the time of the year when that particular holiday occurs. Also, ask yourself if it would not seem a bit silly or out of place for let's say a St. Patrick's Day Parade to have floats that included a Santa Claus, a Menorah, or even a person dressed up as Uncle Sam. What relevance would those displays have to the Holiday being celebrated?
Dan M July 22, 2012 at 01:08 PM
As a policy, the BOS should allow displays throughout the year at the appropriate season for various religions holidays. If no one requests a display, no display would be put up. However, carving out a time frame for religious displays which happens to correspond to only one religion's major holiday creates a defacto endorsement of that holiday. It shouldn't be any harder to set up a display for a non-Christian holiday than it is for a Christian one.
Marcus Aurelius July 22, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Marse John, You have a fine educated mind. I believe you and Bobby Lee would have been in most righteous agreement on the Bible's interpretation of slavery.... your most humble servant.....
John Mileo July 22, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Marcus, Why can't you engage in a civil exchange of comments sans the unnecessary and insulting/libelous references, as Dan M who is offering what I feel is a reasonable alternative, is doing?

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