Are all atheists terrorists? Is anyone who opposes a holiday display on the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds a terrorist?
County Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) seemed to make that assertion in a Nov. 26 Washington Times story featuring the past—and now current—controversy surrounding the local holiday displays in downtown Leesburg.
Reid was quoted in the Washington Times saying: “None of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing. It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.”
Reid’s remarks added another chapter to the years-running drama of holiday displays on the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds. In 2011, after the board voted to allow displays on a first-come, first-serve basis, a controversial skeleton Santa hung from a cross next to a traditional nativity scene and symbols of the Flying Spaghetti Monster church. Vandalism ensued, and the county was featured in several national and local news reports in what supervisors consider an unfortunate light.
On Nov. 7 of this year, following a recommendation from the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee, the full board voted 7-2 in favor of a holiday display that will include a Christmas tree, lights, ornaments, a spotlight, a nativity scene, a menorah and a Santa Claus with a sleigh and reindeer. The items follow a separate recommendation from the Loudoun County Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee.
Reid’s recent statement was referencing the vocal group of atheists who urged the board to prohibit any religion-related décor on county grounds. His comments quickly drew the ire of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee and the atheist community, who see the county-sponsored decoration as a violation of the separation of church and state.
Reid offered an apology when prompted by a reporter during an NBC4 segment Nov. 27. The Leesburg supervisor admitted using the word “‘terrorist’ was a poor choice of words.”
In an email to members of the media, Reid claimed the Washington Times story didn’t use the quote in its full context, nor did NBC4 report everything he said.
“My comments in the Washington Times were directed specifically at the atheist groups that have been relentlessly pursuing their goal to remove all religious holiday symbols from the courthouse lawn, not all atheists or non-believers,” Reid said. “I also told the [Washington Times] that [atheist leader] Rick Wingrove’s proposed ‘attended display’ is fine under our county rules ...
“It’s regrettable … the Loudoun County Democratic Committee are unwilling to accept my apology for the use of the word in the Washington Times article and are choosing to use this incident to make political hay,” Reid said.
Wingrove, a member of American Atheists who often speaks during the public comment portion of Loudoun Board of Supervisor meetings, has maintained the county is in effect sponsoring various religions with its courthouse grounds policy, breaking the Establishment Clause in the Constitution.
“It was certainly an inappropriate thing to say to compare conscientious citizens in Loudoun County, who are trying nothing else but to defend the Constitution, to compare us with the worst people on the planet,” Wingrove, a Leesburg resident, said on NBC4.
On Facebook the next day, Wingrove said Reid’s “non-apology” was “at least as offensive as the original insult.”
Evan Macbeth, chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, condemned Reid’s comments, calling them “irresponsible and offensive.”
“In a post-9/11 world, ‘terrorist’ is among the most incendiary terms one can use,” Macbeth said. “To use it in a casual manner, to describe a fellow citizen who disagrees with you on matters of politics or public policy, is irresponsible … ‘terrorist’ is fraught with meaning in Loudoun, where many members of our community forever bear the scars of friends and family lost on 9/11, and of those lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“No elected official should ever accuse any American exercising his or her constitutional rights of being a ‘terrorist,’” Macbeth said.
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