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Loudouners take a stand with courthouse displays

photoThis atheist display celebrates reason and the winter solstice. It is one of several displays that will stand on the courthouse lawn during the month of December. Times-Mirror Staff Photo / Beverly Denn

Though the holiday season is generally considered a time of peace, controversy over holiday displays has turned the Loudoun courthouse lawn into a silent battleground for many local residents.

Loudoun supervisors ruled on the hotly-contested issue Sept. 8, voting to allow the first 10 applicants vying for space on the lawn to put up one display each, representing whatever beliefs they chose. The decision came after the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities committee banned all displays from the lawn in December 2009, leading to months of discussion.

But many Loudoun residents are still unhappy with the outcome. Some believe that all displays should be banned on the basis of separation of church and state, some believe that only explicitly religious displays should be allowed, and some are just upset at what they perceive as the hate that is ruining their holiday season.

The 10 courthouse displays include four atheist signs, a Christmas tree, a letter from Jesus, two nativity scenes, a Christian sign and a Jediist display.
Leesburg resident Richard Wingrove would prefer not to see any displays on the courthouse lawn. But the platform was too good to pass up.

“We decided that we would celebrate the separation of church and state, celebrate the solstice ,and make the important point that the appropriate place for religious displays is on religious grounds,” Wingrove said. His atheist display will be put up Dec. 18.

“When the government allows religious displays on the courthouse lawn, they are basically endorsing that religion,” he added.

Wingrove said that sometimes the motives of atheists can be misunderstood.

“We’re neighbors. We’re not the bogeyman, we’re not criminals, and we don’t eat babies,” he said. “We’re the guy next door to you.”

There is no war on Christmas, he said.

“If there were a war on Christmas, I would have gotten a memo,” Wingrove said. “All these stores like Walmart, Sears and Macy’s that are doing ‘holiday’ displays, all these things that make Bill O’Reilly apoplectic – I wish that we had the influence to be able to do that. But that is just the American people saying we’re no longer a Christian nation.”

Leesburg resident Don Phillips worked with the Knights of Columbus to put up a 12-foot Christmas tree with ornaments on Dec. 10. The group represents churches and religious figures throughout Loudoun.

Phillips, a Roman Catholic, believes all religious groups should be able to put up displays on the courthouse lawn. He takes issue, however, with atheist displays.

“Christmas is a season because of Jesus and they’re trying to get equal play for non-religious [displays],” Phillips said. “They’re trying to mock the Christian faith. With freedom of speech, there’s a limit on what you can do. This is disrespectful and insensitive.”

Phillips remembers admiring the Christmas displays as a boy.

“It just breaks my heart to see this kind of stuff,” he said. “We don’t mind if the Muslims or the Jews want to have something. We’re just upset at all the hate being displayed. That’s all it is, pure hate.”

When Middleburg resident Jenelle Embrey heard about the decision to open the lawn to all kinds of displays, she wrote a letter from Jesus to the people she considered the angriest: Christians.

“I anticipate some Christians getting angry at some of the other displays and it is that anger [I hope] to intercept and bring to reason,” she said. A former Christian, Embry has been an atheist for 10 years.

“I respect and appreciate followers of any religion, so long as they don’t hurt anyone,” Embry said.

In the letter, customized from a similar letter that Embry found online, she asks Christians not to put so much importance on what the holiday is called or whether certain displays are on the courthouse lawn.

“If you want to celebrate my birth, just get along and love one another,” Jesus says in Embry’s letter. “If you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to me, then behave like a Christian. Make a statement with your kind actions.”

“I am God and can take care of myself,” the letter concludes.

Leesburg resident Eric Santiago coordinated a Jediist display, to be put up around Dec. 16.

“It will highlight the ridiculousness of courthouse displays,” he said.

The display will either be a sign with the tenets of Jediism or will be a mannequin arrangement including a figure of Luke Skywalker.

“I just hope a few people will get a chuckle out of it. Maybe it will make a few of them stop and think,” Santiago said.

“If there isn’t enough space on the courthouse for every single religious faith to be equally represented during a season of good will, perhaps setting up any holiday display on the courthouse lawn is wholly inappropriate,” he added.


A Question to the Christian Community
Jesus was a 1st Century Jew teaching 1st Century Judaism.  He observed all the Jewish laws, holidays, and customs.  He stated that the Old Testament (Torah) was correct and must be followed.  At no time did he advocate a new religion.  Therefore if he were alive today he would not be a Christian! 
Another puzzling fact is that the largest percentage of Christians within any American ethnic group is found in the Afro-American community.  This I never understood because if these people were alive at the time of Christ and living in Palestine they would be slaves.  Slaves!  The Old Testament not only condones slavery but encourages it.  Jesus supported slavery and instructed his followers on how to whip a slave.  Why would anyone follow this kind of barbaric teaching, especially someone whose only value was that of a slave?

@Jonestown Survivor: Very cogent. I have to run to a Christmas dinner. There is much more to comment on. I encourage all to join in with a thoughtful point. This is a great public forum! I promise I will be back to this very enriching discussion soon.

In the meantime, I quote:

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Please forgive two errors:
My apologies to those of you who winced while reading.

@Rick Gondella

Yeah, the >>Flavor Aid<< doesn’t agree with my stomach.  It is funny you perpetuate the “Kool Aid” myth, when that’s not what was used to mix with poison for those poor, misled people. Little details like the name of the drink, over 30 years have been changed by popular public understanding (pop culture)... and now few people even know the reality. Funny how that works.

I’ll have to plug the JediKnight, from an earlier comment, “Fear is the path to the dark side”, and add on my own characterization…

Respect earned through fear is the hallmark of a tyrant.

I do agree on your assessment of the core “principle” of those religions, but that isn’t technically a religious principle, “love one another”.  For many atheists, like myself, it is considered that that is an intrinsic property of our species, one that is beneficial for the species when it is encouraged. Thus when religion’s do it, the groups survive better than others. I know you might hate it, but societal evolution itself plays a hand at increasing religion’s survivability. As societies realize this, they depart from religion (look at Europe).

The usage of the concept “love one another” is something that most religions co-opt right out of human nature, and make it seem as if the religion has bestowed that wisdom upon humanity. It is one of the most noble lies ever, and probably the most pernicious illusions of our age.

You are right about dismissal, but you also have to understand that it doesn’t come lightly.  For some reason, there is another big myth that atheists have not put much thought into their decision to dismiss Christianity, or others. The only thing I can say to that is to ask how much thought you have put into dismissing Zeus or Horus, or any gods you have dismissed. Do you consider those dismissals legitimate? Why then, is my dismissal invalid for YOUR god?

It may be rude, but it is true. Your right to freedom of speech comes with a price, my right to freedom of speech.  Your freedoms stop where mine begin. George Orwell has a great quote on this, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” I try to exercise that right daily.

I think that’s a bit of some intellectual dishonesty showing, that you say critical thinking should kick in when you recognize someone who says their a Christian isn’t a Christian.  Part of the problem with that assertion is the fact that admission into Christianity only requires self-proclaimed faith. This is why murderers, rapists and thieves (or worse) can be JUST as much a Christian as you. Now if you mean disingenuous believers, that’s another sticky point, where divinity is the only determining authority on said genuineness. Why do humans need such labels?

As far as blame goes, I do blame Jim Jones AND Christianity, you see… religion IS a social weapon. In the hands of a crazed megalomaniac like Jim Jones, who happened to be an atheist, it can yield violent and terrible results. Just think of how much power >>any<< religious leader HAS.

Yeah, a physics discussion would take up a whole lot more space <—geek joke.

Rick G…

The beliefs of a person don’t really matter, atheist or theist (of any flavor *wink*). Behavior and actions are what matters.  SO why believe at all?

—> Just be good for goodness’ sake <—

@Jonestown Survivor: This is all a little funny, really, if not a bit impolite. Presumably, you were not at Jonestown. That’s just a funny way to say you “haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid,” right? Ha ha. Cute.

I know many Christians, and Muslims, and Buddhist, and Atheists, who do not assume the hold the truth. They are seekers. They search diligently for the truth.

Among the religious, the “fear of God” is more like awe and ultimate respect, and knowing that a human cannot know everything. Even a scientist. At least that’s what my critical reading of the Old and New Testaments, and my interaction with Buddhism and Hinduism has shown me.

A critical reading of the Bible (Old and New) does reveal a certain need to anthropomorphize and elevate to myth. However, the core principle for Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu, and others is “love one another.” That’s all. No man behind the curtain. No firey pit. Just “love one another.”

Yes, the rhetoric does get boosted up by those who look for a reason to commit war, murder, and pillage. However, you will meet many people in your travels who say that they are a Jew but are not a Jew, many who say they are a Christian, but are not a Christian. That’s where your own critical thought should kick in.

Don’t blame Christianity for Jonestown. Blame Jim Jones, if you like; but at your own peril.

By the way, there is not enough room in the Times to have a real, thoughtful discussion about physics and the origins of the present universe. But I do think that dismissing religion out of hand is ignorant, in the sense that if you ignore it, just like physics, then you cannot understand the deeper meanings. It just follows. Critically.

And I do think it’s rude to publicly dismiss someone’s deeply held beliefs as superstition. That’s not a hardening of my heart. It’s just good manners.

@Rick Gondella

It seems, to myself (and apparently others), that Christians assume they “have” the truth, when in fact all they carry is a pack of lies.  Their book is founded on another religion, Judaism, which is founded on ancient tribal myths and superstitions.

If there is a chance for Christianity to have a basis in rational thought, it would be self-defeating because the most important cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings is irrational love.

Jumping into physics with that rudimentary explanation is rather dangerous also… You see God where science has yet to provide an explanation that suffices without divinity… people have done this for centuries, and it still doesn’t work here and now.

Listen to your words… “To suggest that a Christian belief system is superstition is rude.”

If that isn’t a hardened heart… what exactly do you think a hardened heart is?!

There is a bit of a correction in your final assertion also. Atheists admit possibility, on the basis of accepting what is unlikely or likely… but I’ve seen (and I) dismiss THAT WHICH IS UNLIKELY. This is a critical thinking skill that theists often see, incorrectly, as a form of ignorance because it consistently undermines faith.  If Christians HAD that skill, they wouldn’t be getting sucked into Televangelist schemes, or flim-flam-man lies that cost them their life savings for a “miracle”.

Christians, it seems, will always be persecuted—mocked, ridiculed, censored. In fact, truth is always squelched, because it makes the comfortable uncomfortable.

To take the position that something (i.e. Christian belief) has no basis in rational thought is to deny the incredible possibility of the universe. Our “natural world” includes sub-atomic physics, which defy a basic understanding of the “natural world,” as the laws at that level are completely different than physics at the level at which our world seems to operate.

Likewise, at the instant of the Big Bang, none of the physical laws of our natural world existed. In the absence of physical law, I suggest, any number of things beyond our comprehension might occur. What’s more, we do not live in a static, steady-state universe. So what presents in the “natural world” at this point in the space-time continuum might not correspond to what one might expect at a different point in the space-time continuum.

To further complicate matters, Einstein and others have speculated dozens and hundreds of dimensions, beyond the four we can experience with the senses of a human body.

To suggest that a Christian belief system is superstition is rude. To suggest that Christian belief—true Christian belief—hardens one’s heart, is prejudiced and wrong. It’s true that many historical figures have perverted religion to their own personal or political purpose. That continues today. But to suggest that, say, Mother Theresa was hard of heart shows a lack of compassion. And, to suggest that St. Nicholas, the real person from whom Santa Claus draws his name, sought to enslave is ridiculous. In fact, St. Nicholas secretly gave a family gold, so they would not have to give their daughter over into slavery.
True Christians, like true Buddhists, true Jews, true Muslims, are kind, charitable, generous, and tolerant.

Atheism, I submit, ignores possibility, and rigidly adheres to a system of physical law that is, at best, temporary (even if my use of “temporary” might be a little longer than what you’re used to.) Ignorance is not a trait that I would trust to help me make my life decisions.

Nice to have a redditor or /b/ poster in here…

As a nontheist (I don’t like to call myself an “atheist” but I’m the most un-Christian person I know) I find this whole mess with the signs rather amusing. It brings out the whiners in everyone-Christians, atheists, “other,” etc. If people ...are gonna throw fits like this, why bother putting up stuff on the courthouse lawn to begin with?! This is why we have separation of church and state in the first place-to prevent these ridiculous civil wars of ideologies. This is why I do not associate myself with any religions or even atheists in the first place, because these people make me lose faith in humanity. I swear, it’s our religious beliefs that are going to do us in one day… but I digress.

I think nothing should go on the courthouse lawn, but people can still decorate their properties with whatever they want. Celebrate the season however you want it, don’t tell me what to do. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to open my Christmas presents on the court lawn or anything. Do people even pray on the courthouse lawn? No? Then why so upset?

If you kids can’t behave, mommy’s gonna have to take away all your nice things. Keep b*tching about it, and no more courthouse displays for you. That’s how I feel things should be.

tl;dr Chillax everyone, shut up and enjoy the holidays.

My bad, I didn’t realize there were Christian signs also up… sorry about that comment haha

If this is allowed to be put up, a sign saying something about remembering the true reason for Christmas should also be put up.

And for the record, there are two holidays that are widely celebrated: Christmas and Hanukkah… so Merry Christmas should not be considered offensive

@Just a Thought,

Are you making the suggestion that a single display that says

I think the exhibits are an embarrassment to the County and the people and businesses of Leesburg who are associated by location.  It’s one thing to allow or disallow exhibits that celebrate the season or holiday, it’s quite another to allow exhibits that attack or mock other peoples faith, beliefs, or lack of beliefs.  It’s childish, and I appreciate the Jedi exhibit for pointing that out so clearly.

Christmas is a Christian holiday.  Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday.  If you’re not of the faith of those or any other late December holiday, why do you care? 

I’m a Christian, and I think ALL of the displays should be pulled down.  If our local government can’t rationally agree on how to represent the late December holidays respectfully (e.g. “Happy Holidays to All”), just don’t do it.  I know folks care about traditions, but the makeup of our country is changing and a little respect is needed.  And since we know politicians really just aren’t capable of that—leave the celebrations of religious holidays to individuals and churches.  Oh, and you Atheists—find your own holiday to celebrate, so you can stop being bitter about the others.

Jonathan, Christmas is not the one and only holiday during this wonderful joyous holiday season. There is also St. Lucia

@Jonathan and Charles and George and Jennifer and Mandy and Ginny and Virginia and whoever, it

Christians want to display a manger scene because it is Christmas.

Supervisor Stevens Miller and Mark Herring want atheists to be able to display anti-Christian messages on Christmas because they are anti-Christian.

Mark Herring is also a champion for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender causes. If you do not believe this alarming fact, log on to http://www.votesmart.org/issue_rating_category.php?can_id=50846 and see the 100% rating he got from Equality Virginia, a radical leftist group that exists to advance the causes of bisexuals.

Time for Herring to go.


Jonestown, Sirius is the bright star but as I stated, it revolves around the heaven like all the other stars.  The North Star, Polaris remaines fixed and has been the star to navigate by. In addition to the manger story many flaws, Roman records clearly show that the citizens didn’t return to their birth place to pay taxes, they paid where they lived like everyone else in the world, then and now.


I have seen young children worship at the alter of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but then they grow up and hate searchin’ for batteries and puttin’ toys together in the middle of the night just like the rest of us!

And I don’t buy the bad writing skills thing.  Acting that dumb just serves your purpose in some way.


Your literacy level is appalling.  A strong and functional understanding of the English language (or any language for that matter) is a necessity in order to properly understand the problems inherent with the Bible.

@Emmert Elsea

The bright star in the east, is SIRIUS.

The Three wise men are Orion’s belt.
ζ Ori (Alnitak), ε Ori (Alnilam), and δ Ori (Mintaka)

Those three stars have been called the three wise-men for a very long time (unknown) before the story of Christ.

On or about the 23th of December, the three wise appear to be following the bright star in the east…

The SUNRISE (or birth of the Son) on December 25th, happens to have this scene play out perfectly… the constellation Virgo happens to be behind the sun (the Virgin bears the son).

This is where solar deities get their common myth from… astronomical phenomena, not a nonsense story without purpose behind it. The purpose is just to communicate solar worship.

Except you humble yourself as a child you shall not enter in to Heaven. I’ve seen young children accept Christ as there person Saviour, The i’ve seen the elderly.My dad was 56 when he got down on his knees an invited Christ into his life. All the pain he wented thur has passed, I ‘ve forgiven him, The very best person can not escape Hell an enter in to Heaven. Except he be born again.Lonnie Hamilton leader of Hell’s Angles in 1966, prinsoner. Bill Murray preaching the Gospel son of Madlan Murray Ohair athesist, Bill was a devote athesist help in his mother in Austin ,Texas with the Athesist magazine by his own testmonty recieve christ.I heared his life story it was tough.I’ve know a few Athesist Bible in Matthew says not all people will make it, Remerber the Lawyer, the rich man the poor me We have a free choice.TO all Athesis I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. God says in mark what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world an lose his own soul.I have no ideal where those people are that went on before me. God knows. A not believer can not understand Spirtual things wheter he ‘s an Athesist or not the same was true of me i was lost “DOING OWN THING” for my first 27 years.There are so many more things to know about, Than what a non believer can ever know. I’ve met great scientist that exhausted them selves an came to christ. Look at institute for Creation if if you’re smart enough to understand what the telling us an all God says is kneel at the cross, I guess my favorite story was the theif on the cross he repent an believe on the Lord Jesus as his personel saviour .He was not baptised, do you know why people get baptised ,it is not salvation.He did not belong to a church, Jesus said today you shall be with me in Pardise.

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