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UPDATE: Board decides to keep displays; vote will be moved to next year’s board

photoThe skeleton Santa can be seen here dismantled from the crucifix that it had be hung on. According to authorities, the display was vandalized around noon on Dec. 5. Times-Mirror Photo/Laura Peters

It’s that time of year again, when holiday cheer fills the air and the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn is scattered with potentially offensive displays and outraged citizens.

One display has already received some extra attention. The display in question, a skeleton in a Santa suit on a crucifix, was torn down by a vandal around noon on Dec. 5, according to Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kraig Troxell.

The display

The owner of the display is Middleburg resident Jeff Heflin Jr., according to Julie Withrow, a Loudoun County administrator.

On Heflin’s application for inclusion in the courthouse display, he described his entry as “art work of Santa on a cross to depict society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season.” Heflin is not part of any organization and sponsored the display himself.

According to an email sent by Leesburg Town Council member and Republican Leesburg Supervisor-elect Ken Reid, he was “utterly outraged” when he saw the display.
“It is my intent as the new Supervisor for Leesburg to seek changes in the county policy so these outrageous anti-religious displays are not debasing the lawn of our beloved courthouse,” Reid wrote in the email.

Loudoun resident Gisela S. Bresler wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors about her concerns with the display.

“Perhaps the person or organization that displayed this monstrosity wants to make a point that Christmas is dead, or that Christ is dead,” Bresler wrote.

“The point is that free speech is a two-way street. It is fine for whoever decided to display this obnoxious thing to have it displayed, but it is also correct for those who are insulted by it to speak against it. I am, therefore condemning this and I am repulsed by the fact of it,” the letter continued.

“I don’t like Santa on the cross, either. I think that’s disgusting,” Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said. “That’s why I was the only supervisor to vote against using the courthouse lawn for displays of that kind.”

The removal of skeleton Santa

Withrow said that she received several calls from residents about about the display after it was taken down.

“I’ve had several calls from folks who observed a woman go onto the courthouse lawn and take down the Santa skeleton on the cross display and put it on the ground,” Withrow said. “One of our staff members asked her if it was her and she said no.”

“We’re there to protect the grounds, those displays are private property of the owner,” Withrow continued.

WUSA 9 reporter Peggy Fox was at the scene when the woman was vandalizing the piece. She said that a Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputy was watching and then approached the scene, but ended up speaking with Fox, not the woman. He informed Fox that she wasn’t allowed to film on the courthouse lawn.

“While I’m shooting her, I see a sheriff’s deputy and he ignored her and came to me,” Fox said. “He told me I couldn’t film on the lawn.”

According to Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne’s secretary, Alice Alkire, media are allowed to take photos on the courthouse lawn because it is public grounds.

Fox asked the deputy if he was going to do anything about the woman dismantling the display and he responded he wasn’t going to bother with it.

However, Troxell denied those allegations, and said the Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the procedures related to allowing cameras on the courthouse property .

“The deputy was out there taking a look at it to further investigate what had occurred,” he said.

“It later came to our attention that the resident dismantling the display was not the applicant who erected the item. It is our understanding the item was later removed by the applicant. The Sheriff’s Office is conducting a thorough investigation into this matter to determine what, if any, criminal violations have occurred and potential charges,” Troxell said in a release.

“We had the same thing happen a year ago when Ed Myers put up some vulgar parody lyrics of the ‘Twelve Days of Xmas,” said Miller. “Well, those came down within an hour and that’s vigilantes. What I think is stunning is that we have all these people who say we have a right to put whatever we want up because of the First Amendment. I can only hope that it’s different people who go out and tear down the ones they don’t like.”

Rick Wingrove, president of the Virginia Chapter of American Atheists, said the county needs to do something about having displays on the lawn.

Changes to the displays

A board-appointed citizen group, the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee, recommended in December 2009 that the county ban courthouse displays. The board later denied the committee’s request.  The debate resurfaced in July 2010 when the committee requested a ban be put in place on courthouse lawn displays. The board decided that anyone could put up displays on the lawn on a first-come, first-serve basis, with 10 spots, recently reduced to nine.

The courthouse lawn display issue was brought up during the board’s Dec. 6 meeting where Miller motioned for the rules of the displays to be suspended in order to discuss the issue. The motioned failed with a 5-4 vote.

Miller said the displays were “turning the courthouse lawn into a chamber of horrors.” Other supervisors agreed that the displays were causing more of a problem than necessary.

“I think I’ve reached a point where I think, in the terms of the physical conditions of the courthouse grounds and the uproar we have each year, I’m for ‘no’ on courthouse displays,” Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said.

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said she was tired of seeing such animosity on the displays.

“I’m tired of it. It’s December and, regardless of what you celebrate, isn’t this the time to put the energy to advancing something in the community to do something good?” Waters asked. “Generally I’d like to see the community stop having this nastiness and put your energy to something good instead of just being mean.”

Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said that it is now a timing issue and it will be brought up early next year with the new board.


@An Enlightened Being (ironic name)- Just because something cannot be disproven does not make it proven.

Just because one cannot disprove aliens visited the Egyptians and gave them technology does not prove that it happened.

Religion is faith because there is no proof of God.

Hey Ken, thanks for an intelligent outline of what you believe. Here are my perspectives on your comments:

  KEN > 1. Simple logic says that you can’t disprove anything, it is only possible to prove something. And religious people have zero evidence for existence of their deity.

  I see your point. Though if something is proven true, it usually does disqualify competing theories. But in any case, here is the best part of the conversation for both of us. And it’s a doozy: We are both working with the exact same evidence for each of our world views.

Everything depends on where we start, our beginning frame of reference. I have never been afraid of proof that God is vapor and in turn false. Having an open mind to consider all things is a plus not a minus. But so far science only answers some of the “how” we work, not “why” we work.

For many of us, God has been very present and visible in many ways. But again unless we are both open to all options without discounting what may be true then you are right - in your eyes there is no evidence.

  KEN> My opinion is that the meaning of existence is to pass on the digital code that comprises DNA. The DNA gets shuffled through generations, but our bodies simply exist as a container for the DNA, which has been getting passed down generationally since the beginning of life. The body and brain are essentially only a tool of the gene to reproduce itself.

  I agree with the idea here, but it’s the process part of life, not necessarily the meaning of life. I can easily understand how someone could write the notion of God off. But on my side it’s just as hard to think that what you just said has no more meaning than a human zeros machine. Seems so strange and pointless. And to be honest if that really was all there is - why not war and take what you can get during your short shot at temporary existence.

  KEN > Every emotion (even the capacity for religion, jealousy, hate, love) that a human (or animal) possesses helped the gene survive to this point.

  So, let’s talk this emotion component. If we are truly wired to make genetic copies of ourselves and that’s it - then where did all of the passion, compassion, love, hate and the rest come from? If you believe that evolution has some purpose then doesn’t the mere fact these traits are deep within all of us means they should be?

  KEN > Its a philosophy without bronze-age, superstitious, middle-eastern derived garbage beliefs (Christianity, Judaism, Islam).

  I actually understand why you believe this. Religion has killed and ruined more people than anything else in the history of the world. But take a closer look at Jesus, and what He is really all about. It wasn’t the hookers and sinners that made him angry - he loves and see the best in us all.  His anger raged in the temple courtyard when the religious leaders had turned it into a money driven side show. And we see that even today on TV at times.

  But Jesus isn’t a philosophy or mere religion. I think one of the most compelling thoughts is how so long after He lived on earth - just mention of His name above any other strikes such a chord. He is blistered and chided by those who can’t objectively read His words. Such radical things like truly love your neighbor and don’t even think about using people. Consider those less fortunate - but don’t treat them as such. If someone wants your help regardless of who they are (or what they believe) go with them. These are indeed the words of a crazy person hell bent on destroying society. Or are they?

  KEN> The end.

  Well, I don’t believe that :) 

  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

@Mom the Amoeba - my apologies, I hope you didn’t take offense to my slight at you and your son.  Sorry to hear about cuz Organic Soup, maybe you can get it a Bunsen Tutor to heat up its skills.

My Dearest Kenneth,

I know I told you that you were adopted, but you deserve the truth.  I asexually reproduced with myself to create you. 

If you are not busy this weekend, please come over and we can encircle some food particles.

Mom the Amoeba

P.S. Your cousin Organic Soup failed his math test again.  Perhaps you could tutor him.

@Kenny - So by your own words, God, Faith and whether or not there is communication between you the Deity cannot be disproven.  I would rather believe in the Creator then believe my ancestor is an amoeba.


Thank you for your message, Festivus is awesome.

1. Simple logic says that you can’t disprove anything, it is only possible to prove something. And religious people have zero evidence for existence of their deity.

2. Do you really think you have the ability to communicate with your deity through telepathy? Has your deity ever talked back, or is it a one-way street?

My opinion is that the meaning of existence is to pass on the digital code that comprises DNA. The DNA gets shuffled through generations, but our bodies simply exist as a container for the DNA, which has been getting passed down generationally since the beginning of life.

The body and brain are essentially only a tool of the gene to reproduce itself.

Every emotion (even the capacity for religion, jealousy, hate, love) that a human (or animal) possesses helped the gene survive to this point.

When our bodies die, no worries, our genes will live on in our offspring, or nieces/nephews etc.

Its a philosophy without bronze-age, superstitious, middle-eastern derived garbage beliefs (Christianity, Judaism, Islam).

The end.


Your kids must look forward to the 25th with unabated anticipation to open their Festivus presents. 

“Look Sally - another microscope because we are smart scientists and can disprove the existence of all deities.”

However, I suspect you require the airing of grievances and feats of strength before opening presents.

Merry Christmas!

I am praying for your soul.  //<—Free speech//

As an atheist I really hate it when fellow non believers start talking about being smarter than religious people because often the argument is pithy and not at all intelligent on either end.

However some of the so called Christians on here should be ashamed of themselves. This is not some religious government system in America where you have the right to attack any perceived criticism of your religion.

In order for the government to allow religious symbolism on their property they need to allow all opinions to be heard and guess what you are just going to have to let it slide or you will have to chose to only put up your display at your religious center and forget about the government space. Those are your options under free speech in America. Do not act like the Taliban.

Hey Ken, stop wasting your time on what you don’t believe about us and provide some solid answers on what you do believe. And in keeping with your benevolently articulated rules of faith vs. proof, lay out the inarguable evidence for your “non small minded” and grown up beliefs.

  This is gonna get interesting, because I have a feeling what you believe is just as much a question of faith as mine.

  What’s really funny too a lot of us is how you decry such things yet can’t provide any real answers yourself. Oh, and remember, it’s not about me or what I believe this time. The floor is yours. If you do have anything one would think it could convince at least the “less intelligent” that linger behind you.

  Now, can you be a big boy and do that? Gooood…


I have every right to mock your religion, would you prefer a Pakistani/Saudi version of blasphemy laws in this country? From what I’m aware, I’m not breaking any laws by mocking your small-minded superstition/religious beliefs. Therefore, I have every right to verbalize what I think is true.

Your religion is ridiculous because you think you are special because:
1. You’ve found eternal salvation (without any evidence)
2. You have some special knowledge that non-christians do not.
3. Yours is the only “true” religion (as religions are mutually exclusive). 

Btw, I can tell you the most likely scenario when you die: nothing. You cease to exist, no heaven, no meeting long-lost relatives etc. Why is that so difficult to accept? Instead, religions conjure an afterlife to comfort the masses.

To most thinking people, false hope is worth nothing.

Anyways, there is as much evidence of the existence of your god exists as there is for leprechauns.

And there isn’t any evidence of an afterlife, so you believe things as a child believes in fairy tales, yet you’re an adult.

So sad.

Blue Dog you are unAmerican if you think it is okay to rip down a display because you disagree with it. What if I went around ripping down religious displays, or Santa Clauses?

Kenneth, I learned long ago that you can’t argue with babies, drunks and idiots.  But here I go anyway….

No, you do not have the right to belittle anyone’s belief system, no matter how idiotic you may think it is.  Individuals choose their belief system as you have chosen your belief system.  You arrived at your beliefs somehow, and they are your personal beliefs.  Others did the same.  You can only decide what is right for you, not tell everyone else they are wrong-headed and misguided. The real detriment of religion and philosophy is not when we guide ourselves by our personal beliefs that make us better people and care for our neighbors, but is is when we try to impose our beliefs on others, as history has shown. To bring this all around to the original argument, nothing on that Courthouse lawn imposed a philosophy or belittled anyone else’s beliefs until the crucified Santa came along.  Even the atheists presented their point of view, not lambasted the believers for their adherence to their religion.  Unless you have some foresight, you have no way of knowing what happens at the end of your time on this planet.  So, it logically follows that you have no way of knowing what happens next.  You, my friend, can be wrong as well.

I’ve read every comment posted b/c I value different opinions. I don’t necessarly like them but I can agree to disagree b/c they are just opinions. Im a christian and proud of it.  I don’t believe in arguing about whether there is a God or not.  I know how I feel & what I believe, that’s all that matters to me. Everyone has a choice & I choose to believe He was born in a manger, healed sick & lame, died on a cross for my sins, rose on the 3rd day with all power!  That’s my choice. I live in a country that allows me that priviledge.  We don’t have to argue God’s word with unbelievers b/c it’s their choice not to believe.  It’s our obligation to pray for them. God does the rest. He knows who will & won’t come to Him.  Jeremiah 33, I think talks about if you see your brother is sinning & you dont tell him the right way, his sin is your sin.  If you tell him and he continues to sin, its back on him.  You’ve stated your beliefs and they refuse to hear you, pray and keep it moving. God is there if anyone decides to call on Him but He is a gentleman. He won’t come in uninvited! I pray for unbelievers everyday but Im realistic enough to know that there are some who never will believe no matter what you say, or what happens in their lives.  It will only be on that day when EVERY KNEE WILL BOW AND EVERY TONGUE WILL CONFESS JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! Unfortunately, it will be too late…..Its what I believe and it’s my choice to believe just like you choose not to.  Im not mad at your choice nor will I argue the point with anyone b/c I can respect your right not to believe. We seem to have lost respect for ea other along the way.  We want to be angry with anyone who do not agree with us.  I can respect the young man’s desire to make his point b/c we have gotten away from the real meaning of Christmas.  I don’t agree with using the cross to do it. As a Christian, Im not supposed to be ok with it.  As non believers, you don’t see the cross like I see it.  To you, it’s two boards nailed together.  To me, a symbol of suffering & shame. I’d rather see nothing on the courthouse lawn than to see the displays that have made their way there.  In the end you can’t please everyone so the BOS should not allow any displays and maybe we can start to heal and come together as a community no matter what you believe.

@Kenneth, Was it you that asked for an explanation of belief? That’s such a big question & not easily typed. How can an atheist understand I wondered, & how does an atheist feel? In my Christan studies, I was told about an author named Lee Strobel who was an atheist. He is not now, but he writes about his journey in book “The Case for Christ” . Maybe that would be enlightening considering your point of view currently. I was raised Christian & both my parents have remarkable faith. I have always felt the Holy Spirit working in my life, but in the last year & a half, I did find a church that is incredible & what was “ok” is now “spectucular”. It is never too late to discover faith in God (unless you are already dead). Another easy read is “23 minutes in hell” by Bill Wiese. A true account of visiting Hell-told so others would know what it is like. Interesting reading. I wish you happiness & fulfillment my friend. :)

Kenneth, you have every right to mock or criticize another person’s beliefs. But neither do much other than make you look petty. It really doesn’t matter if you think the majority of the planet is wrong. It doesn’t matter that we are feeble little morons in your eyes.

  What matters is that no matter how much you yell, throw tantrums and demand attention - you will never have the eternal impact of Jesus Christ, who’s heard it all before.

  What matters is that when you may need help after losing everything, we will care for you too.

  What matters is that the majority of the planet thinks what you believe is based on fear. It’s easy to sit and spout against others to try to hold to a higher calling when you run from any sign of moral measurement yourself. What are you running from?

  The truth is right now you can’t change even if you wanted to - and that’s not a place that freedom lives.

@Kenneth: go back to watching your DvR’d “Robot Chicken” repeats. ROFL!

Bluedog wrote:
“But, as an American you cannot belittle or undermine another person’s beliefs…. You can observe your own rituals, but your right to do so ends where it belittles someone else’s belief system or seeks to undermine or destroy their observances.”

Blue dog, your statement is wrong on so many levels.

As an American, I have the FULL right to belittle or undermine another person’s beliefs. Are you saying religious beliefs are unquestionable and not subject to criticism? Are there laws I don’t know about that protect religion from critique or mocking?

For me, Chrisitianity, Judaism, Islam are belief systems equally moronic and simply where small-minded, gullible people find comfort from their own fears. These religions are based on primitive bronze-age, middle eastern morals.

What demented deity would have a commandment to not say a deity’s name in vain, yet not have “Do not rape” as a commandment? 

It is unfathomable that people would follow religions created in one of the most awful regions on our planet.

Anyways, I didn’t know I didn’t have the right to mock other people idiotic belief systems. Thank you for letting me know.

The great thing about America, “Deal”, is that you have an equal right to not go along.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to participate, rather than throw a tantrum and call Santa on a cross a tribute to the commercialism of Christmas as this “artist” did.  Funny the only thing disturbed was the Santa.  What it means is that it offends the community standard, which is a long tried and true gauge of whether something is inciting, or not.  Christmas has been a national, and therefore secular, holiday in the US since President Grant.  It is, for many, a religious holiday, but it is also for many a secular holiday of the end of the year, prosperity, compassion for others and giving.  Interestingly, Christmas is celebrated by Buddhists and Shinto practitioners in Japan.  It is observed, it is tolerated, and it is enjoyed as a secular festival, despite only one half of one percent of Japanese being Christians.  Americans are tolerant as well and allow multiple disciplines to flourish, whether religious based or not.  As an American you can observe or not.  But, as an American you cannot belittle or undermine another person’s beliefs.  There’s your explanation.  You can observe your own rituals, but your right to do so ends where it belittles someone else’s belief system or seeks to undermine or destroy their observances.  Odd that for a philosophy as tolerant and peaceful as Hinduism and which has for centuries coexisted peacefully with other religions, “Deal” has little tolerance for anyone else’s beliefs and resorts to intolerance and incitement (“I go take them down and leave them in the street”) rather than acceptance and coexistence.  In none of his cases cited has anyone come to his house and put up decorations or forced him to observe Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah or any other festival.  These observances have every right to be there.  Others can post their philosophy as well.  You do not and cannot disparage another person’s beliefs, whether you consider it art or not.  That is why the crucified skeleton Santa is on the ground.

“bluedog” just reiterates the disconnect with reality these people suffer from. 

It absolutely is an issue of free speech and it absolutely is vandalism, which is criminal. 

Let us turn it around.  I’m a Hindu and I think all this Christmas nonsense being shoved in my face is offensive.  I’m sick of this county bowing to the Christians and I want to see those Christmas decorations in town taken down.  So I go take them down and leave them in the street. 

Is that criminal?  Is that vandalism? 

You folks can’t pick and choose when you want free speech to apply or when a law should actually be enforced.  It is the apex of hypocrisy.  Like it or not, Loudoun has changing demographics.  It is not some sleepy, rural county full of white Christians who go to church every Sunday.  You now have educated people from all over who are different religions and subscribe to no religion.  Deal with it.  They all pay taxes and all have equal rights to speech.  No need to shove Christmas down their throat and tell them to shut up with their beliefs. 

Again, I am looking for the devout Christian who can explain to me why Jesus would support their beliefs of limiting people’s speech and vandalizing someone else’s display. I’m having a hard time making that connection.

This is some funny _hit.  Only in this hypocritic county could a circus like this go forward.  The commentary here reflects the ignorance, prejudice and intolorance that prevails in this place.  But it is great entertainment, keep it up folks, when I need a good laugh, I have my fellow citizens in LowDown County to thank for my amusement.

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