Controversy in Loudoun County over holiday displays on courthouse grounds continues. Over the past three years, the debate had been ongoing.
Loudoun County, located in Northern Virginia, has had much controversy over its courthouse holiday displays. Last year, the debate had been fueled by several unconventional decorations appearing on the county property during the holiday season.
The debate over the seasonal decorations on the property of the old county courthouse, located in Leesburg, continues. This controversy has been ongoing since 2009 after the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors removed a ban that had been previously imposed on courthouse displays. With this decision, it gave everyone "equal access" to the courthouse grounds. After this controversy had been ignited.
Historical marker on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse
Last year Loudoun County and its courthouse grounds became national news after several unconventional displays appeared on the courthouse grounds, including a skeleton Santa on the cross and a tribute to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Vandalism to some of the unconventional displays occurred during Dec. 2011, while others protested the presence of religious-based displays at all.
This year the local government took back the "equal access" policy and created a stricter policy. According to Leesburg Today, the county's Board of Supervisors wanted to avoid becoming a "national joke" again this year and imposed a permanent ban on unattended displays that are not county-sponsored.
This year the county-sponsored holiday display includes a Christmas tree, a Nativity scene, a Menorah and Santa Claus.
In 2012, A Santa Claus display has been placed on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse.
Attended community-sponsored displays may be allowed, but anyone wanting to put one up had to have filed an application; up to 10 displays are allowed and are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Only one application was reportedly received during the 2012 season.
The American Atheists submitted a request and subsequently received approval. According to the new county mandate, that display must be attended at all times it is up. The display is a canopy that has quotes from people such as John Lennon and Thomas Jefferson hanging from its sides.
The American Atheists were reportedly the only group to apply for approval to have a display on the courthouse's grounds in 2012 under a new mandate. Here two members of the group are in the midst of putting up their information canopy and podium.
A group gathers on Dec. 8 in front of the American Atheists canopy. Approved by officials to be positioned on county courthouse property, this display must be attended at all times.
"We put up quality displays, we quoted great men from history, and we didn’t trash anyone‘s religion," Rick Wingrove, a Leesburg resident and Virginia state director for American Atheists, told Leesburg Today.
Many had blamed last year's Santa on the cross on this group, but according to media reports, that display was put up by a Christian individual as a protest against the commercialism that is linked to Christmas these days.
While county officials have their agreed-upon displays up, local media reports say some lawmakers are concerned with this and would prefer to see either no religious and/or no decorations on the courthouse grounds at all. In the meantime they've come up with what they believe to be the best solution.
“The Board of Supervisors again simply felt that the best thing to do is to disband the policy on unattended displays and simply put up a small traditional Christmas display … celebrating the holiday,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York said, reported NBC News.
Digital Journal was in Leesburg over the weekend to cover the Christmas and Holiday Parade and happened to be standing on King Street in front of the courthouse. While there, some tension could be felt in the air in Leesburg and as a couple of quiet comments could be heard expressing one opinion or the other, but for the most part, on one "side" of the issue, a group of people congregated around the Atheists' canopy and, on the other, people visited the traditional holiday displays and took photographs. No major incidents were observed and things overall appeared to be peaceful during the morning of the parade.
While the rules have changed this year, it seems the debate is far from over in Loudoun County. Loudoun's controversy has gotten perhaps more attention than some others, but this community is not the only one dealing with separation of church and state issues and/or feeling a "war on Christmas" has been launched.
Then there are those communities that celebrate the Christmas holiday publicly with no incident at all, reports the Dearborn Patch (Michigan).