Opposing sides in the now-years-long debate about what, if anything, should be placed on the Loudoun Courthouse lawn during the Christmas holiday season turned out Tuesday night to lash out at or give their support to Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg).
The most recent blow up occurred after Reid referred to the local group of atheists opposed to the county’s taxpayer-funded Christmas tree display at the courthouse as “terrorists” and “fanatics.” In addition to the tree, the display includes a crèche, a menorah and Santa Claus.
Reid apologized again Tuesday evening, but not until speakers weighed in the display and his comments.
Rick Wingrove, who organizes the Northern Virginia Atheists website, said that as a veteran who has not committed violent acts against the United States he should not be called a terrorist. Terrorists, he said, commit acts such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“What do they have in common with the local atheist community? Absolutely nothing,” Wingrove said, calling Reid’s comments a “fantastically stupid” thing to say, an “obvious assault” on the U.S. Constitution and an “unconscionable breach of decency.”
Greg Hudson pointed out that Reid had apologized for the comments.
“He has been very apologetic over the past week or so,” Hudson said, adding that Reid’s comments were unfortunate. “Sometimes just saying 'I’m sorry' is all that’s needed.”
St. John the Apostle parishioner Bobby McCurdy said he does not understand the opposition to the church’s traditional display at the courthouse.
“It pains me deeply to see that this tradition has come under attack,” he said.
Atheists speaking Tuesday night – including teachers, veterans, government workers and others – said they preferred a tree without the religious symbols of the crèche and menorah.
One speaker who identified himself as a veteran asked Reid to resign on the spot. Reid did not resign, but he did offer another apology for his previous comments.
“It’s great to see so many folks in the community who have strong feelings, but also passion and also dignity in the way they speak,” Reid said. “I offer again for the third time, which is a Jewish tradition to apologize three times to those you have hurt. It was a poor choice of words, all the words, including fanatic. We all make mistakes and government officials make mistakes.”
Reid said media reports have not picked up on his support for an atheist greeting tent on the courthouse lawn.