If it’s holiday time in Loudoun County, it’s time for more controversy at the county courthouse.
What has become an annual feud over who is allowed to post holiday displays on courthouse grounds and where they are allowed to post them is taking the form this year of a battle over an old tree and a long-running nativity scene.
At a meeting last week, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 6-3 to discontinue use of one of the spots at the courthouse where a Christmas display by the local Welsh family had been annually sitting over two decades. The courthouse grounds committee told the Board of Supervisors it was concerned that the roots of an old sycamore tree would be disturbed by foot traffic and the installation, weight and removal of the display.
The decision effectively cuts the number of spots allowed for holiday displays on courthouse grounds from 10 to nine.
County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio, a Republican who represents Sterling, is one of the board members who voted against the measure. He said the board wrote up restrictions that only allow the displays to sit on top of the dirt and that the tree is too far from road or sidewalk to be disturbed.
“This is not an issue of the tree. This is an issue where common sense must rule and common, constitutional rights must prevail,” the supervisor told WMAL.com.
Ten applications were submitted and accepted on a first-come, first-served basis for this year’s holiday displays at the courthouse, but the tenth, which was asking to display a Christmas tree, was rejected when the board cut the number of display spots by one. A public discussion will be held December 5, when residents can weigh in on the issue and discuss if the board’s decision should be changed.
Displays are currently set to go up on December 3.
The Loudoun County Board voted in the fall of 2010 to welcome both religious and non-religious holiday displays on courthouse grounds. Later that year, the board decided to start accepting applications for holiday displays on courthouse grounds in the order in which they were received. A group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation was the first to submit an application and used the spot currently in question to display an atheistic message.
“This is the same location that for three years running, crowds of people have shown up to protest the elimination or the barring, outright barring, of a nativity scene. Why are we revisiting this again?” Delgaudio said.
This year’s accepted applications, in order, include:
– The Welsh family nativity scene
– A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident
– A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident
– A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident
– A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident
– A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident
– A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident
– Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident
The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.
“This seems to be a punch in the nose to Christians at holiday time,” Delgaudio said.