There’s no place for angels atop Christmas trees, according to one California man who successfully lobbied for the removal of religious symbols at county buildings after spotting a yuletide decoration last week.
Stars and other religious emblems were ordered removed from Christmas trees in all government buildings in Sonoma County on Monday following a complaint by Irv Sutley, a disabled 65-year-old Marine veteran who said the symbols were “extremely offensive” and part of the “cult” of Christianity.
“I just don’t believe government has the right to intrude on anyone and force them into sectarian behavior,” Sutley told FoxNews.com. “I’ve opposed Buddhist statues, the star of David â€” anything of a religious nature.”
Sutley said he filed the complaint with acting County Administrator Chris Thomas on Dec. 18 after noticing an angel atop a six-foot tree in the lobby of the county recorder’s office. Sutley, a lifelong atheist and chairman of the county’s Peace and Freedom Party, said he visited the office last week for his re-election bid next June.
Sutley said the angel violated previous court rulings concerning holiday displays, including a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that government-sponsored Christmas trees decorated with religious symbols constitute an illegal endorsement of Christian doctrine.
Sutley said he was pleased with a subsequent e-mail sent by Thomas to managers of all 26 county departments instructing them to remove religious symbols like angels and stars from holiday displays.
Jim Toomey, a public information officer for Sonoma County, confirmed the removal.
“To avoid any controversy and to satisfy this gentleman’s concerns, the ornaments were removed,” said Toomey, adding that he knew of no prior complaints concerning the holiday display.
Sutley, of Santa Rosa, said he’s pleased with Thomas’ directive, but said his work might not yet be done. The veteran previously led successful efforts to stop prayers at government meetings in nearby cities and forced Rohnert Park to redesign its city emblem due to religious symbols.
He now intends to ask county officials to remove a steel cross near Ernie Smith Park in Sonoma that serves as a memorial to an accident victim.
“It was put up privately without a permit,” Sutley said. “It shouldn’t be there.”