Does this look like hate speech to you?

Update: See more photos from the Leesburg courthouse on Saturday, when four new displays were added. Just added: the text of the “Letter from Jesus” that was vandalized the evening of December 5.

Another update: The Beltway Atheists’ take on all this is up at their blog. They are quite right about this: “The NOVA display, like all of our previous displays, failed to trash christianity or to attack christmas.” The frequently repeated sentiment summed up by the opening line of this recent misguided letter to the editor“The anti-religious courthouse lawn displays crafted by Rick Wingrove and the others were erected for one purpose only: to insult and provoke those who believe in God” – is a ridiculous kneejerk reaction to the expression of ideas with which those who are offended disagree. Disagreement does not equal insult, people.

On the other hand, I do think the author is dismissive of the spontaneous interpretation of the Skeleton Santa by those who didn’t have prior knowledge of its intended meaning (“That the christian community was absolutely wrong about the display did not alter their narrative, that it was an atheist attack on christianity.”) While that statement is certainly true, what those people saw conveyed hate to them. A little more sensitivity to the feelings of such people, even if it’s not mutual, would go a long way, IMO. The Christian community is not a monolithic group, any more than the atheist community is. Unfortunately, some of them responded in kind (trigger warning for those offended by hateful language and profanity, the author quotes from one of the emails sent to the group, and I can only hope that person doesn’t claim to be a Christian).

Does this look like hate speech to you?

Yeah, me either.

31 thoughts on “Does this look like hate speech to you?

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  2. Epluribusunum Post author

    Do you mean the op-ed by Rick Wingrove? He doesn’t mention at all the third option of replacing the privately owned displays with a county-sponsored tree in his piece, reproduced below – although I believe he did state during the December 5 public input session that such a policy would be a reasonable alternative. The topic of his op-ed is limited to the simple either/or of public access: ALL displays, or NO displays. You probably misunderstood the statement “we want all displays banned from the courthouse lawn so that government property cannot be used for the support, endorsement and advancement of religious purposes” to refer to something more than displays submitted by members of the public. If a county-sponsored display (a tree) doesn’t promote or give special privilege to religion, it would be lawful and constitutional, and therefore the notion of “banning” it would be moot. There are some – Travis, for one – who do object to this idea, and they need to be heard as well. That’s not addressed in this op-ed, though.

    ‘Skeleton Santa’ and other secular displays don’t equal a 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 years. For a long time, no other signage or displays were permitted.

    Two years ago, a resident-led committee made the decision to unilaterally ban all holiday displays on the courthouse lawn. However, after much backlash from the religious community, that decision was reversed a few days later, and the old policy of allowing up to 10 unattended displays on the lawn was reinstated.

    In 2010, members of the Atheist community in Loudoun County acquired seven of the 10 available permits for spots on the lawn. Some of the ensuing displays were tongue-in-cheek, such as one of a Jedi and one of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Others were more abrasive, and openly questioned some core tenets of Christianity, like a Santa/Easter Bunny/Jesus comparison. Others were more positive, honoring the Constitution and the separation of church and state.

    Over the last year, members of NOVA Atheists and Beltway Atheists have put an upbeat and positive banner on the lawn every month, celebrating persons or events pertaining to science or the separation of church and state.

    While it is entirely legal to criticize religion in this country, the monthly signs have never been directly critical of Christianity and only mildly and tangentially critical of religion in general, and only as an issue about the necessary separation of church and state.

    The main function of the signs has been to demonstrate that policies about the courthouse lawn were being disingenuous by facilitating religious displays under the banner of free speech.

    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. In broad daylight, as one network news camera rolled, a local Leesburg woman went to the courthouse grounds and vandalized the display.

    Is there a lesson in all this? Yeah, several:

    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.

    The best place for religious displays is on religious property. It is fully protected and no one cares about that. No one’s rights to practice his or her religion are diminished by putting up any kind of religious display on his or her own property.

    Religious groups do not have an absolute right to occupy government property. It is by permit only.

    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 displays banned from the courthouse lawn so that government property cannot be used for the support, endorsement and advancement of religious purposes. Government should never be in the business of propping up religion.

    Rick Wingrove is the CEO of Beltway Atheists, Inc. and the Virginia State Director of American Atheists.

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  4. Barbara Munsey

    David, thank you for that excellent example of equivocation.

    The full process of equivocation is available at the Ken Reid thread.

    I see that the head honcho of the local atheist groups has a new publication in the Post, in which it appears that the tree is not acceptable either.

    So much for “compromise”. lol

  5. Epluribusunum Post author

    EB, it’s a variety of equivocation, switching the meaning of a word (in this case “member”) in the course of making an argument, while pretending its meaning is consistent. Example:

    You are members of NOVA Atheists, which is a social arm (or Meetup) of Beltway Atheists.

    But “members” in this case means having subscribed to an email list, which any member of the public can do. When asking the question originally, it was clear that “members” meant actual membership in the organization (“working with them on the displays,” “their photographer,” etc.)

    Barbara, you appear to be claiming that the meetup called “NOVA Atheists” is not an email list associated with an organization by the same name. If that’s the case, you’re claiming to know more than I do about an organization I’m supposedly a “member” of. So much for your argument, in other words.

    See my analogy above about the fictional church. This isn’t a difficult concept. I’ve insisted all along, correctly, that it would be a misrepresentation to claim membership in an organization when I’m only subscribed to its associated public email list – a very common situation. I’m not going to make that misrepresentation, mainly out of respect for the people who actually are members of the organization and embrace its mission. Accuracy matters, and you are attempting to jettison that accuracy with a transparent word game.

  6. Barbara Munsey

    you still haven’t read the Ken Reid thread, elderberry, or you would have seen the following:

    “Barbara Munsey says:
    07.12.11 at 09:22
    Just watched the channel 7 clip–was the reporter correct in identifying Jonathan as a member of the local atheist group?

    Epluribusunum says:
    07.12.11 at 09:24
    No, Jonathan isn’t an atheist – LOL

    Barbara Munsey says:
    07.12.11 at 09:40
    David, I didn’t ask if he IS an atheist, that’s his business. I asked if he was correctly identified as belonging to the group?

    I went to Catholic school for my entire educational experience, and had many classmates in high school and college who were not Catholic.

    It wasn’t a requirement to attend any of the schools.

    Many people join differing groups for a variety of reasons, some of which has little to do with the belief set of a majority of group members or founders.

    You guys happen to be a gay couple, but you participate in things as a couple that aren’t exclusively gay, right? Belonging to a civic or community group that may have mostly straight members doesn’t make you a straight couple simply by means of the chosen association.”

    So no, your “that would be a fine argument if you were not trying to make one thing (being part of the meetup group) stand for another (being an atheist).” doesn’t wash.

    You have stated precisely what I did NOT do.

  7. Elder Berry

    Barbara Munsey that would be a fine argument if you were not trying to make one thing (being part of the meetup group) stand for another (being an atheist). That’s another rhetorical and propaganda technique I can’t remember the name of. Guess you and the rest of the right-wingers active on the net will just keep on going on down that list of those techniques as time goes on.

  8. Barbara Munsey

    David, do reread the Ken Reid thread–yes, I understand that you may not be members of Beltway Atheists (never said you were, neither did the press), or their parent group American Atheists (never said you were, neither did the press).

    You are members of NOVA Atheists, which is a social arm (or Meetup) of Beltway Atheists.

    Jonathan was referenced as a member of NOVA Atheists in the press, a wide variety of places.

    I asked if that were true, and (based on your interpretation that one reporter could possibly be construed to have implied that Jonathan was a REPRESENTATIVE instead of a MEMBER) the denials, diversions, and word games began.

    You say you were simply denying being a representative. I am perfectly happy to agree that you may not be a representative.

    You ARE members, and that is what you also consistently denied (which is a lie) until it was proven otherwise, with a link to the membership page of the website for the social group, which is quite a bit different than a simple yahoo listserve.

  9. Epluribusunum Post author

    Also: What you continue to call “my” compromise isn’t mine. It was first suggested by Ken Reid. He asked Supervisor Miller to make the motion. Why do you continue to ignore that fact?

    It’s true that I’ve been more in favor of NO displays recently, although even that is much more nuanced; like you, I’ve been ambivalent about it, and for much the same reason. Although being a passionate defender of free speech, I’ve wondered all along if it’s not more destructive to the community to have this very unpleasant annual event in which people tear into each other at what is supposed to be a joyous time. And that is the reason I have been won over to this “compromise” (as you surely know, it’s not because I want to help Mr. Reid’s political career). I’m just sorry that you disagree.

  10. Epluribusunum Post author

    Yes, I’ve seen where you’ve cut and pasted things from this blog elsewhere. That’s what I was referring to. It would be more charitable of me, perhaps, to assume that you just don’t understand what a Meetup group is.

    Suppose that there is a church in Loudoun called “the Church of St. Barbara.” Further suppose that CSB has established a yahoogroup for the purpose of social networking and conversation. As an active member of an interfaith organization, suppose that I join this yahoogroup because CSB is doing some interesting work with other communities of faith. Now, suppose that I am at an event that has been organized by CSB, and I am asked by a reporter to comment on some aspect of it. Suppose that the reporter then identified me as being “from” or “belonging to” CSB.

    If you asked me whether that report was accurate, I would correctly say that it was not. If you then googled CSB and found that they had a yahoogroup, you would be able to discover a link at the yahoogroup site labelled “Members,” and indeed you would find that I was a “member.” Does this mean that I am a member of CSB? No, it does not. Does this mean that I “lied” when I said that the news report identifying me as a member of CSB was not accurate? No, it does not. Yet this is precisely what you have done, and what you are saying.

    I do not actually believe that you don’t know what a Meetup group is. But I could be wrong, and if I am I will apologize for that assumption.

  11. Barbara Munsey

    David, please reread the “Ken Reid justifies mob rule” thread, which I have cited before in several places.

    All of the dancing to avoid any association at all is documented right there.

    Actually, what your spinning (continued lying) suggests is that it is desperately important to YOU that you be seen as the Christian authority who makes peace (for some) by reaching a compromise with the atheist group.

    All or none, remember?

    None is your preference, according to many of your communications throughout the process, and that of the atheists with whom you have been working toward that goal.

    Your self-styled (predetermined) Solomon “compromise” is still selective, and excludes some groups.

    And given the lack of candor on the process of the activism, what guarantee that the “compromise” would remain acceptable to those proposing it? None.

  12. Epluribusunum Post author

    What this elaborate fabrication about “lying” from Barbara tells us (notice how there is never any evidence presented for my supposed “denial of association,” just the phrase repeated over and over, as if that makes it true) tells us is that it would be very powerful for principled people of faith and principled atheists to publicly come to the same conclusion about the current failed policy.

    Somebody out there desperately wants to keep alive the divisive idea that ALL Christians demand a creche on the courthouse lawn, and that ALL atheists are working in lockstep for the singular purpose of insulting Christians. The truth is that there are many Christians and people of other faiths who also respect the Constitution, and don’t find it appropriate to have symbols of any religion on the courthouse grounds. That’s why there just aren’t many applications for display spaces from those communities.

    It appears that for Barbara, et al, the worst possible outcome would be for the community to come together around a symbol that is inclusive, that we can all celebrate this joyous season around in common, and end the ugly bickering of the past two years. Think about that. That’s a really sad position, and I think it should be decisively rejected. It should be pretty clear that I’m not a fan of either Ken Reid or Scott York, but we are on the same page about this.

  13. Barbara Munsey

    Guys, thanks for the zen lesson (but it isn’t a lesson! lol)

    elderberry, you’ve always had the right to ignore, and the duty to yourself to do so if I annoy you. have a nice day.

    Okay fellers, all the Alinsky tactics in the world will not change the FACT that you did everything you could to deny any association, to the POINT OF LYING about it, and are now retroactively cleaning up after it with every tool in the box, including more lies, bluster, ridicule, and massive diversion.

    Too late.

    Documented lie.

    And that isn’t a gotcha, or McCarthyism, or zen, or anything but what it is.

    If you really really believe in your activist principles (I mean the free speech, christian, “interfaith” ones, and not the “enemy of my enemy is my friend/join the atheists to attack those christians who don’t support my LGBT issues by hitting THEM every little place I can), then why aren’t you honest about them?

    Your desired end justifies any means, including lies?

    There goes your moral high ground David.

  14. Epluribusunum Post author


    Are you now, or have you ever been in correspondance with atheists?

    Exactly how many atheists do you know, and in what capacity?

    When exactly did you become aware of atheist baby-eating activities?


  15. Pariahdog


    Let’s not be so hard on Barbara. Perhaps she is not what you think.

    “I call Barbara a Zen master, what do you call her?”

    Not the Wind, Not the Flag

    Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: `The flag is moving.’
    The other said: `The wind is moving.’

    The sixth patriach happened to be passing by. He told them: `Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.’

    Mumon’s Comment: The sixth patriach said: `The wind is not moving, the flag is not moving. Mind is moving.’ What did he mean? If you understand this intimately, you will see the two monks there trying to buy iron and gaining gold. The sixth patriach could not bear to see those two dull heads, so he made such a bargain.

    Wind, flag, mind moves.
    The same understanding.
    When the mouth opens
    All are wrong.

  16. Elder Berry

    Barbara Munsey perhaps it is time the rest of us just ignore you since you seem to have no interest in doing anything but fuss over minutia and play gotcha games over irrelevancies. No one cares who is or isn’t a member of anything except you. You’re starting to sound like Joe McCarthy. “I have here a list of 500 atheists.” If your behavior is supposed to be an example of a Christian it’s getting to be enough to make me become an atheist, I’ll tell you that.

  17. Barbara Munsey

    David, you have apparently decided to forget that I originally asked if Jonathan was correctly sourced as being a member.

    Then the hyper games began.

    I never asked if he was a spokesperson or representative, which is apparently what you choose to reimage it as, in order to somehow disappear the repeated attempts to deny any association at all until I linked it.

    See, I didn’t know the answer, which is why I asked.

    I trusted you to be truthful, which you were not.

  18. Epluribusunum Post author

    Barbara, again this is entirely your fabrication. No one has “denied the association;” we’ve been perfectly forthright about getting information from the group. What the media reported was simply incorrect. Subscribing to an email list isn’t the same as “being from” an organization, maybe that’s what you don’t understand.

    I know it must frustrate you that we don’t cooperate with your game of asking a question you already know the answer to, but that’s not a justification for lying.

  19. Barbara Munsey

    No David, you have not been forthright about the association with NOVA Atheists.

    Reimaging after the fact doesn’t alter the timeline of joining, being referenced, denying the association, and now dancing about it.

  20. Epluribusunum Post author

    Barbara, I have been forthright, in spite of your apparent wish to think otherwise. You are entitled to your theories, but they are probably less than helpful if you are genuinely interested in what I think.

    Since the information I have comes directly from people who know the family, unless I hear directly from the young man or his mom that it’s incorrect, I’ll accept his identity as a 15 year old who identifies as Christian. If I do hear otherwise, I’ll make the correction.

    With regard to policy, I understand the three options presented by the attorney to be exhaustive; as you know, hate speech is still constitutionally protected speech. I don’t see how such a restriction could be lawful. I don’t know about the residency part, though.

  21. Barbara Munsey

    I continue to agree with free speech for all, and think the policy needs to be a bit better crafted, i.e. to limit to actual residents, and to fall within the bounds of speech that would not meet the criteria for a question of hate speech (itself elastic, it seems on occasion).

    David, you are putting a lot of effort into your narrative, to the point of hanging out at the courthouse to tell all and sundry that the “artist” is a 15-year-old HS student.

    Just as you put a lot of effort into creating the sense that you and Jonathan were not members of/affiliated with? etc of any atheist group, which has since been shown to be untrue.

    I honestly believe that if you were as forthright as you claim to be, you would publicly acknowledge that since some Christians do not accept your position on LGBT issues, you fight them wherever possible, and have joined with the atheists in seeking to limit their freedom of speech by helping to get displays banned.

    That does not fit your narrative nor your practice. You seem to like to present yourself as the one level headed moral person in the room, yet often call others liars and denigrate them, while having an extremely elastic relationship with the truth as needed.

    As to your sources, I have seen one place where an officer of Beltway Atheists says the boy is “in high school”

    As they live dozens of miles and a full county away, perhaps there is a better source?

    Maybe his application?

    Although, if that was filled out to imply he lives in Loudoun, then even that source may not be a good one.

  22. Epluribusunum Post author

    Travis – yes and no. I think that most people have no idea, because most people don’t read newspapers or blogs. A young woman who was there on Saturday hoping to write a story for her high school paper was shocked to find out he’s 15. She told me that her follow students saw the display as being “something from the occult” (which I can understand) and nobody knows anything about who he is.

    You can tell how much that knowledge changes people’s perception from the amount of effort people like Barbara are putting into sowing doubt about his age and identity, though. They need to maintain the falsehood that the totality of the displays other than the creche are a monolithic “activist” campaign by those baby-eating atheists, no matter how thin that falsehood becomes.

  23. Travis

    Okay, so according to picture 19 the creator of the Skelton Santa is 15 years old? Sounds like to me we are spending a little too much time discussing this then.

  24. Epluribusunum Post author

    Barbara, in light of all that has been shared here and elsewhere, “I just don’t agree with the narrative I’m supposed to swallow” really means that you dispute the facts as presented. Why not say that, and then actually address those points you believe to be counterfactual?

    Calling a forthright presentation of the currently available information (some of which I have access to only because of my various affiliations with different people) a “narrative,” as you do here, suggests your belief that there is something fictional about said presentation. But you haven’t provided any evidence of that. What you have done is to accuse me of lying, which is not very conducive to constructive dialogue.

    To get us back on track, here’s a question for you. I’m sure you are aware of the county attorney’s explanation to the board that they have three lawful options: 1) no displays at all, whether religious or secular in nature; 2) all displays submitted by the public on a first come-first served basis, whether religious or secular in nature; or 3) a government sponsored display free of content that would constitute unlawful endorsement of religious belief (this would be the single tree option). Apparently it’s fine for the county to put up a Christmas tree and call it a Christmas tree, since Christmas is a national holiday.

    So, given that these are the three options, which one would you encourage the new board to adopt?

  25. Elder Berry

    She still doesn’t get it.

    It appears that Christians are the only ones allowed to feel persecuted, in her world. And intent, it seems, doesn’t matter to her.

  26. Pariahdog

    Regarding photo number 17 (the nativity scene), did you notice the crack in the roof at the joining of left and right halves? If it rains, it will drip all over the baby Jesus. If someone were looking to pick a fight about irreverence, or unintended messaging, or carelessness, they could start there.

    On the other hand, this may reveal the unintended consequences of very methodical and consistent thinking. You know what I mean, right?

  27. Barbara Munsey

    You have come to the conclusion that the Santa on a cross is hate speech?

    Or do the words “perceived to be” leave space for an out?

    At least you are inclusive in acknowledging the potential perception, which is quite a step forward.

    Thank you for that.

  28. Epluribusunum Post author

    The Santa on a cross and the rainbow blood are both consistently perceived to be hate speech, yes. Do you understand it better now?

    Not everything is a conspiracy.

  29. Barbara Munsey

    No, it doesn’t.

    It looks like the planned next step in the “tree only” “compromise” narrative, which will be doggedly executed and publicized, even though the decision on any resolution has been kicked to the next board.

    Crucified SkeleSanta could probably be classified as hate speech, if raibow paint is.

    We wouldn’t want to be TOO consistent or anything.

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