“The War On Christmas”
The historic Loudoun County Court House in Leesburg Virginia is the site of an ongoing clash
over religious displays on the lawn. A Nativity scene has been placed on the lawn at Christmas
for decades. No other signage or displays were permitted. This amounted to privileged access, a
special right provided to the local christian community by county government.
Two years ago, the Grounds Committee, tasked with preserving the lawn and the century old
Sycamores, recommended that no more displays be placed on the lawn. There was an immediate
backlash from the religious community, bemoaning the war on Christmas and the unconscionable
attack on Christianity.
The Board of Supervisors, predictably caved, ignored the recommendations of the grounds
committee, and permitted the religious displays to remain.
But, then they did a curious thing: they consulted the ACLU. The Board was advised that access
for one required access for all. The Board decided to give free speech a chance on the lawn and
began permitting up to 10 displays on the lawn. The local religious community was enthusiastic
about free speech, possibly feeling that free speech was a more solid footing for the continued
hosting of the christian displays.
In 2010, members of the Atheist community in Loudoun County acquired permits for 7 of the 10
available spots on the lawn. The religious community’s enthusiasm for free speech was
immediately revealed as the thin ruse that it was.
The religious community, as it turns out only believe in their own free speech. They railed to
the Board and in the media to expel the secular displays from the lawn, calling them an attack
on Christianity and an attempt to destroy Christmas.
Some of the displays were tongue in cheek, such as the Jedi and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
others were more abrasive, and openly questioned some core tenets of the Christian mythology,
like the Santa/Easter Bunny/Jesus comparison. Others were more obtuse, honoring the
Constitution and Separation of Church and State.
Over the last year, members of NOVA Atheists and Beltway Atheists have put a banner on the lawn
every month, celebrating persons or events pertaining to Science or Separation. Again, all have
been condemned as attacks on Christianity. All of the banners can be viewed at beltwayatheists.org.
While it is entirely legal to criticize religion in this country, and there is much to be
critical about, the monthly signs have never been directly critical of Christianity and only
mildly and tangentially critical of religion.
The main function of the signs have been to demonstrate that the Board and the religious
community were being disingenuous by facilitating the religious displays under the banner of
free speech. Their knee-jerk, sky falling, full martyrdom response more than makes the point.
This has all come to a head following the appearance of a display on the lawn which outraged
the local christian community. The display was a skeleton Santa on a cross. As one local new
camera rolled, a local Leesburg woman, short on understanding and high on sanctimonious rage,
went on to the Court house grounds and vandalized the display. She did this in broad daylight,
in front of a camera, and, to make it much worse, in front of a Loudoun County Sheriff’s
The Deputy’s response to the vandalism of a legal display on government property was to ask the
reporter to get off of government property because news cameras are not permitted on the
grounds. The Deputy then walked past the vandal, declining to “get involved in that” and went
back in the building.
Every regional news outlet picked up the story and were regaled with hyperbolic wailing about this
unconscionable attack on Christianity.
This would be terrible… if it were true. As it turns out, the artist who placed the display
is a Christian. AND, as it clearly states on his permit application, this was a commentary on
the death of the true spirit of Christmas, sacrificed on the altar of Big Box commercialism –
something that both atheists and Christians agree on.
Is there a lesson in all this? Yeah, several.
First, the ballistics, the hyperbole, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the christian
community is frequently divorced from relevant facts.
Second, the secular displays are not a war on Christmas – most of us celebrate the holiday in a
fairly conventional way and have never suggested that anyone change that.
Third, The best place for the religious displays is on religious property. It is fully
protected and no one cares about that. No ones rights to practice their religion are diminished
by putting up any kind of religious display they want on their own property.
Fourth, The religious groups do not have an absolute right to occupy government property. It is
by permit only. Permits can be denied.
Fifth, our only aim is to honor and protect the Constitution by making sure that the Separation
of Church and State is rigorously observed.
We want all display banned from the court house lawn so that the Separation deniers cannot use
government property for the support, endorsement, and advancement of their own selfish and
partisan religious purposes. Government should never be in the business of propping up
– By Rick Wingrove