Tag Archives: Holiday displays

Offensive holiday intentions

John Mileo, a member of the Courthouse Grounds Committee writes that Rick Wingrove, CEO of the Beltway Atheists, is in the process of “rounding up his storm troopers… to persuade the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors… to rule against the inclusion of a creche as part of this year’s so-called Seasonal Display.” The storm troopers – Sturmabteilung, SA, or Brownshirts – provided protection at rallies, disrupted opposing political parties and intimidated Jews during the rise of the Nazis. I fail to see how a half dozen BoS public comment speakers could be compared to “storm troopers”, but I also failed to understand how a small group of prayerful Soulforce youth could elicit a storm trooper-like response from Patrick Henry College for daring to engage students in open dialog.

PHC's "storm trooper" dialog

And here is where the two stories meet. Mike Farris, the only person in the county to actually call for shock-troop-like protection of the fragile ideology fed to his PHC students, is also the constitutional lawyer consultant to the CGC that illegally cleared citizens from its last meeting. Mr. Mileo did not mean to be offensive, forgive him, he didn’t understand what he was doing – channeling the Christianist-right’s ubiquitous persecution complex.

Last December, Prison Fellowship Ministry’s Pat Nolan wrote a letter to the editor with a similar argument, that “neo-pagans [sic] of the SS belittled and mocked all who acknowledged a higher power than the state” and that “[e]ven the simple act of celebrating Christmas was outlawed.” The late Chuck Colson also used Nazi imagery in his “Breaking the Spiral of Silence” DVD to portray, among other “liberal” menaces, same-sex couples as modern day “storm troopers.” Thankfully, “Breaking the Cycle of Silence” was Colson’s final exercise of Godwin’s law.

Creche on the courthouse lawn, 2011

The use of this imagery is offensive, and the Board of Supervisors is planning to allow the CGC to get away with it. At last night’s public input, Chairman York invoked his privilege to indicate that the BoS intends to approve the PHC designed display because it will be similar to the national display at the Ellipse. For me, the content of the display – a creche, Christmas tree and menorah – isn’t the issue. The issue is the intention of the BoS and CGC to establish a phony religious mythology that frames any opposition as threatening, terrorist, and even Nazi. That intention is so offensive that the PHC design should be rejected outright and the BoS should take a timeout to think about what they are doing. Mr. Mileo did. After belatedly consulting a dictionary, he posted the following comment to his own letter:

I have requested that the editor replace the word “storm troopers”, which I was using as a metaphor, with the word “member.”

Thank you Mr. Mileo. Unlike the BoS, your retraction demonstrates a willingness to admit error and change course.

Baby wants a creche!

Goodness gracious, this board may just turn out to be the most corrupt in recent history. The hilarity continues to escalate (assuming that you find the deliberate incitement of costly taxpayer-funded lawsuits hilarious).

After last month’s highly entertaining meeting of the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee (reported here), in which the chairman admitted both to having consulted with “preeminent constitutional lawyer” Mike Farris and that the proposed inclusion of a menorah was only to provide “top cover” for the sole objective of a county-sponsored creche, this month’s meeting featured ejecting a reporter and members of the public from the room. The reporter was told that although the committee has no authority to make policy, and is not facing litigation, they had to be in “closed session” because they were receiving legal advice.

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“War on Christmas” gets an early start this year

Back in 2005, the School Board’s Legislative and Policy Committee was meeting regularly to discuss how they could rewrite freedom of expression policy, at the behest of Dick Black, without violating federal law. After one memorable meeting during which some inadvisable confessions were made, I titled my report “It was late and they were tired.

Alas, last week’s discussion of holiday displays by the new Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee (CGFC) took place at only 6:00 pm.

To briefly recap, the new board has abandoned the idea of a limited public forum. This is because – as I predicted – those like Eugene Delgaudio, who claimed to support freedom of expression for all, in reality did not like anyone’s expression but their own and demanded that the displays end. The board is now pursuing the idea of a county-sponsored holiday display on the courthouse lawn, and the CGFC has been tasked with designing it. Further, the CGFC has been reconstituted and is now stacked with individuals who were active in writing letters and speaking to the last board in favor of allowing the display of religious symbols and messages, but prohibiting the display of other symbols and messages.

One of those individuals is John Mileo, who had a design proposal for the rest of the committee. But first, he had to explain his reasoning. Continue reading

Holiday display solution moves forward

According to the Leesburg Today, the Finance, Government Services and Operations Committee is recommending that the Courthouse Grounds Facility Committee “be directed to work up a plan for seasonal display sponsored by the county government” that would replace the increasingly contentious “limited public forum” policy in place for the past three years.

The solution is essentially identical to what was proposed by former Supervisor Miller at the end of last year, but was not adopted because the display spaces for that year had already been assigned, and in some cases, displays already erected.

Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run), an attorney, noted that there are two different Supreme Court cases that show there is legal precedent for such a step.

“Essentially what they decided to do in those cases was you could put up a secular display, a Christmas tree, fine…Things that weren’t of an innately religious value,” he said, noting there also was a case of a nativity scene put on a courthouse’s steps, and that the court ruled that was going to far. “The tough work will be in deciding what the government-sponsored seasonal display is. I think we do have some good guidance from two Supreme Court cases. If we put out a secular display, we should be fine.” [My emphasis]

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Ken Reid decides to invite lawsuits

Posted on his Facebook page:

The Board of Supervisors last night unanimously adopted my amendment to temporarily ban those ugly atheist billboards on the Courthouse lawn (and other ‘unattended displays’ ) until the Supervisors issue a new policy on religious and other holiday displays. This is not a ban on the creche of Christmas tree, as the Board also issued a request that its Finance Committee (on which I serve) devise a new policy to allow government sponsored holiday displays, including the nativity scene and Christmas tree — but NO private displays, which would allow for things like the skeleton Santa nailed to a cross. It is my hope the full Board will adopt a new policy by spring.

Mr. Reid had previously stated his support (along with Scott York) for the constitutionally permissible policy of a single, county-sponsored Christmas tree. This is a solution that almost everyone could support, including the Atheist groups. The reason is that a Christmas tree has been found by courts to have a legitimate secular purpose related to the federal holiday, and is not a religious symbol. It could be a joyful community focus for the holiday season, and would eliminate both the antagonism associated with the limited public forum and the risk of lawsuits.

I gave Mr. Reid the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t express my suspicion that he would do exactly what he is now doing. I sincerely hoped that I was wrong. I defended him publicly for supporting a sensible solution, in spite of his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric in doing so. I can’t say I told you so this time, because I refrained from telling you.

What Mr. Reid is now telling us is that he doesn’t want a solution, he wants a lawsuit. It’s unfortunate and disappointing.

“A brave stand”

While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction.

Does this sound familiar? It’s from the January 11 ruling on Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, in which an explicitly sectarian prayer banner was ordered removed from the wall of a public high school. The Rhode Island school district argued that “the prayer, which dates back to the early 1960s, is an historical memento of the school’s founding days, with a predominantly secular purpose.” The plaintiff who took her school district to court is a 16 year old student, Jessica Ahlquist. Here is the full paragraph from the ruling (PDF): Continue reading

Yes, I do realize this is a snarky post.

Dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights

In light of recent comments here and here about the threat of “sharia law,” here’s a corrective from Barton Hinkle. Those who prey on the perpetually outraged are like “the woman in Kansas who recited a special chant to keep the Bengal tigers away. Informed that there were no Bengal tigers, she replied that the chant must be working.”

In fact, this is who is embarrassing Virginia and threatening everyone’s individual liberties. The story, as reported earlier this month: Laura George, formerly a Leesburg attorney, planned to build an interfaith retreat center near her home in the southwest Virginia town of Independence. The Grayson County Planning Commission unanimously approved her project, which included a public library, interfaith education center, and ten cabins. There was a public hearing.

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