Back in August, those who wanted to see holiday displays continue on the grounds of the Leesburg courthouse were vocal champions of the First Amendment. The grounds should be open to everyone, they said, and they were delighted to have the ACLU on their side. Here are some typical comments on the Loudoun Times-Mirror site at the time, in response to those who argued that all displays should be prohibited:
“Public property should actually be FOR the public, and allowing public use by all is not “establishing” any one of them. Everyone should have equal access, in my opinion.”
“Let everyone have an equal chance to display.”
“If we are to protect individual freedom, we must protect the ability of all to express their opinions, whether we personally agree or not. Allowing freedom isn’t abridging it, and a free for all is just that: free.”
“Tolerance means to respect (and ALLOW) others their differences. Their difference doesn’t harm you by existing, even if you disagree with it.”
“I think it would be nice if displays could continue, and include not only serious representations of beliefs involving faith and/or no faith, and yes that would mean we’d have to welcome the onanism of the attention seekers too.”
“The American Civil Liberties Union, AG Ken Cucinnelli, Barbara Munsey, many others, including myself all say the same thing: no harm in allowing all points of view.”
That last comment is from TMitOH, by the way – the individual who rounded up all the angry speakers by leading them to believe that the board was poised to ban the baby Jesus, or send them to prison for wearing Christmas sweaters, or some such thing.
We were additionally told that raising concerns about vandalism and escalating animus due to the perceived offensiveness of this or that display was fearmongering about a “non-existent” security issue, that once the equal access policy was implemented the agitation would “run its course” and settle down, and that democracy is messy and can make people uncomfortable (with this I agree).
Well, it’s not August anymore, and the equal-access-for-all crowd has morphed back into the special rights crowd. The fun started when the ten lawn spaces were assigned to the applicants exactly as advertised; on a first-come, first-served basis. Complaints ensued. The nativity scene should automatically get the favored corner spot no matter who applied first, argued the complainants, because of “tradition.” Well, equal access law doesn’t grant super-special privileges to any faith tradition on that basis, and neither does our policy, so the answer to that was “no.” The policy adopted by the board is exactly what was praised by the ACLU and embraced by the pro-display, pro-freedom of expression public.
Judging from the comments on the current LTM article, the policy they were so in favor of then is now completely unacceptable. The problem now is that other points of view are “defacing” what they feel is their exclusive Christmas display privilege. Pointing out that there is no such special privilege gets one called “pig” and “freak.”
This is what I told the board in early September:
“Back in 2008, there was a holiday display and invocation that included the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions. Some people did make valid arguments that it shouldn’t be at the courthouse, and I respect that. Maybe a different public site would address those concerns – I can’t speak for others. But in spite of that I think, rather than making people angry, it brought them together. I wish it could have continued in that direction. And that was the first and last time that happened.
Now what we have is anger and division. I’m not saying that most of the people upset about this are trying to divide us; I don’t think that’s true. But the loudest voices, and the voices getting the most attention, are the militant ones – and no matter what you decide, the people who are angry now are still going to be angry, either because there are no displays, or because they don’t like the other displays.“
Look, I’m not particularly clairvoyant, nor do I possess any other special powers. You could see this coming ten miles away. It’s not very jolly, is it? Nor very Christian. I’m not sure she’s explained this fully, but could it be that the person who created the “Letter from Jesus” display – she used to be a Christian, and now identifies herself as an atheist – left the faith because of behavior like this? Who could blame her?
The text of “Letter from Jesus” is in the comments over there. It’s worth a read.
And please, don’t forget to check out Loudoun’s Alternative Gift Fair. Happy Holidays – all of them – to all.