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Judge asks for delay on controversial vote

The chief judge of the 20th Judicial Circuit is asking Loudoun County leaders to postpone a controversial vote to determine whether to ban public displays on the courthouse grounds.

In letter to Chairman Scott York (I-at large), Judge Thomas D. Horne says he will be out of town during the July 20 vote.
Horne asks for additional time to allow “all our judges to be given the opportunity to consider, should they wish to do so, the impact of the use of the grounds on the operation of their Courts.”

The chief judge was out of town July 16 and could not be reached for comment.

Supervisors are considering whether to reinstate a policy crafted in November by the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee that banned unattended public displays – including religious symbols – on the lawn of the Loudoun County Courthouse.

The policy brought controversy and nationwide attention to Loudoun County after a request by the Leesburg Rotary Club to place a Christmas tree on the lawn was denied.

The rules now in place allow 10 displays on the lawn with applications to be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

However the new policy, according to some supervisors, also has proven controversial as “unpopular” displays have since been allowed to grace the courthouse lawn.

– Check back to the Loudountimes.com for further details on this story, including coverage of the July 20 vote.


Festivus, I think Supervisor Burk was referring to the fact that those hollering about a “war on Christmas” had made it about “church and state” in the public’s perception, not saying that it’s objectively about that. I agree that it becomes muddled when you have to deal with both what is and what people’s perceptions are, but it’s also true that the use of the issue as a convenient political hook is now objectively part of the situation. We need to keep clarifying it.

Great post, thanks. Too bad Kelly Burk, in her quote, has to muck it up, like so many others, by saying “...not so much church and state,...” - it has NOTHING to do with the content of any display or use by citizens.

I have the same memory of last December’s vote as Festivus does—it wasn’t the BOS idea & it wasn’t anti-religious in nature.

Please see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120102503.html

From the 12/2/09 article:
“A resident-led county committee that handles issues related to Loudoun grounds and facilities voted unanimously last week to bar any structures, religious or otherwise, from the lawn of the courthouse, citing the increasing number of requests by residents to use it as a public meeting space.

Members of the committee, who are appointed by supervisors, said they had studied the issue for more than a year, consulting with Loudoun County Attorney John R. “Jack” Roberts and evaluating two dozen court decisions.

Ben Lawrence, 79, chairman of the grounds and facilities committee and a Leesburg resident, said he was baffled by the reversal. He said the ban was not instituted solely to push out religious displays but to protect the 19th-century redbrick courthouse from damage.”

And from another WaPo article (Dec 1, 2009)

“Loudoun’s proposed policy does not deal exclusively with religious displays, but its most notable impact is on creches. Members of the county facilities committee started working on a new courthouse-display policy about a year ago, said Ben Lawrence, a Leesburg native and committee chairman. For years, requests have poured in from residents wanting to use the lawn and other public areas for meeting space. Over time, the growing numbers have deluged volunteers and staff. One school group asked to use the courthouse lawn for a 45-band music competition, a request that was ultimately denied, Lawrence said.

“Our decision has nothing to do with Christmas or the holidays,” Lawrence said. “The lawn is open to everyone, and we’re charged with protecting it. Once it’s open for all, it has to be allowed to be used by all.” “

“This was more of an issue of what the grounds there can handle and not so much church and state, but it has become a religious issue to a lot of people,” said Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg). “We need to see what we can do to mitigate those concerns.”

Fair enough, Barbara. I think you’re exactly right - those who indiscriminately apply the term don’t understand what it means and render it meaningless.

FYI, see the letter faxed yesterday to the board by the VA ACLU here: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/07-19-10.pdf

Allow all or none.  I say none and let those groups that want to display something do it at their own houses of worship.  The courts are no place for decorating for relegious holidays of any kind.

David, I said “some who seem to prefer calling Christians “Christianists”“.

Applying the term (which I do understand, and know to be Mr. Sullivan’s) indiscriminately (as some seem to do) can be a fun way to chide with intent to offend, maybe?

Good old Loudoun game of “I’m okay, You’re not” maybe.

I understand the vulgar individual’s history, and am only expressing my opinion that he engaed in clownish behavior, and that it is vulgar.

Yes, he is passionate, but his boundary mechanism seems a bit out of whack—his defense that as a taxpayer, he believed he had the right to trespass on school property and deface buses with burning flag decals to protest the affixing of the plain flag decals after 9/11 smacks more to me of onanism than righteousness.

Your other points are well taken.

I would vote to let it run its course.

We are supposed to be a free country, right?

OK Mr. Phillips, as long as the facts of what actions occured last November/December, and what the Board item now reads, is straight, I look forward to hearing your comments this evening. You seem quite passionate about your religious affiliation, and I hope you support the position of allowing any and all to set up displays on the Courthouse grounds both this winter and at any time. As you wrote: “To deny all displays is anti American and downright dispresctful.” I wouldn’t go that far, it’s just a display, it has nothing to do w/ whatever you feel in your heart and soul about your religion, faith, or core beliefs.

With that, I hope others will rally with me around the Festivus Pole this December!!!!

@Barbara - I had the same thought about letting any inclination to be controversial and offensive running its course. I wonder if there are any localities where that has been the outcome - the Fac. Comm. made reference to other places that had been dealing with this issue, and they seem to have concluded from that survey that the only solution was to prohibit displays. Of course the 1st amendment guarantees that anyone has, as you say, “as much right to be a clown as others have to express devotion,” but I also think we need to be careful about identifying others’ displays as offensive or clownish, as if we can assume they are universally so. It’s easy to define a vulgar parody of one’s own faith that way - sure, I was offended by it, that was the point. However, the individual in question made that point because he is offended by the use of public property to display religious symbols (I think that’s a reasonable statement of his motivation based on his comments over the years). He is not alone in having a strong opinion on this; there are other faith communities that adamantly opposed participating in the holiday display two years ago for that very reason, and I don’t think they should be demonized for holding that view.

The point is that there’s a difference between saying “I’m offended by X,” and “X is offensive.” If something is intentionally designed to offend, that’s one thing. But what happens when people are offended by something not intended to offend? Again, this makes me wonder what changed last year to cause the Fac. Comm. to issue a new policy.

I need to correct one thing that you said, Barbara. No one who understands the term would “call Christians ‘Christianists’.” The term Christianist was popularized (if not coined) by Andrew Sullivan (both a devout Catholic and a conservative) precisely because he saw the need to distinguish between two very different things. As the suffix suggests, Christianism is an ideology, not a faith. By definition, Christianists would never have graciously invited other faith communities to participate in a holiday display with them.

I am very familiar with the facts and the intent function of the grounds committee.  As a Citizen of the US and a faithful follower of Christ, I believe what is transpiring is wrong and disrespectful to all American regardless of race, creed or religion.  A compromise was made by the BOS last December.  Where is that compromise now? Seems as if personal opinion from the BOS is the agenda now.  My opinions have been expressed and it is now time for the good people of Loudoun County to speak in the public meeting this evening.

Mr. Phillips, I have to show you the facts now. Please go to www.loudoun.gov/bos, previous business meeting packets, 2009, and the 12/01/09 packet. Click item # 14A (it’s on the 2nd page, click the little 2 in the bottom right). I can’t cut and paste from the PDF, but to paraphrase:
on 9-15-09, the BOS renamed the Grounds committee and gave it 2 detailed tasks: make recommendations to the BOS on use and maintenance of County grounds, and administer day-to-day use of the grounds in response to public requests, INLCUDING “...establishing the rules for the use of the grounds when requested by the public…”.  Continue reading the document, the heading ISSUES summarizes the situation as of that date.

The Committee, for whatever reason (I’m not trying to figure that out, as other posters are arguing about that), made their decision.  The Board as we know then reversed their decision, in essense taking away the responsibility they gave them a few months earlier, because the Board (and many constituents) didn’t like the decision. And to summ it all up, now, the Committee has to inform the BOS every November of what it’s plans are (for displays) for the upcoming holiday season. This seems micro-managing to me, but those vocal citizens got what they wanted I guess.

I hope THIS clears things up for you. And now that I know you are aligned with Spvsr. Delgaudio, well, that tells me everything I need to know. Happy Holidays!

I recall two displays last year that raised some controversy (other than the religious ones, which for some who seem to prefer calling Christians “Christianists”, are the offensive ones), and my own opinion is that, as with any other childish acting out, let it run its course and allow everyone to display if they wish.

The atheists have as much right as anyone to display, and the simple fact of their opinion is not offensive, although an expression that demeans those of belief might be.

The individual who is the constant public attention-seeker, under the guise of pursuing his rights, will eventually run out of steam, and hopefully refrain from anymore sexual double-entendre under the guise of being “clever”.

If not, then who does it say more about?  Those who celebrate a belief with joy and beautiful traditional symbols of their differing faiths, or the adolescent nut case trying to make his ever-pointless points?

He has as much right to be a clown as others have to express devotion.

It may even help in the long run:  the vulgar parody of traditional music posted last year is now on record, and will no doubt be VERY helpful the next time he is in court for his “right” to deface school buses, or whatever the next attention-getter shall be.

Let everyone have an equal chance to display.

Excuse me, anonymous? What are you talking about, and why are you attacking me? Your diatribe is unhelpful and completely uncalled for. As a Christian, I certainly feel “mistreated and bashed” by you; talk about animus.

So, do you have any information about what changed that caused the Facilities Committee to have a problem with holiday displays? And which choice do you think is better, to have no displays at all, or to potentially have deliberately offensive displays?

The “animus” is coming from people like David Weintraub who falsely accuse Christians of putting up decorations to celebrate what they believe is the Love of God, and the birth of Jesus Christ, as some sort of assault, somehow “shoving” Christianity “down his throat?”

So, Mr. Weintraub, suggests the “animus” from Christians is the problem (when really it is his OWN mean spirited reaction to another faith?) and that to “resolve” this, we should just do as he says, not show any display of Christian faith, which is part of our heritage and history in the County and on the Courthouse grounds.  Manufactured “animus” and more false accusations.  I imagine he also thinks all Christians are racists too?  Putting up a Christmas tree is supposed to be a sign of love, not hate.  But the haters turn everything into hate.

Another manufactured “crisis” to get his own way?  The truth is that Christians are the ones who are mistreated, discriminated against, bashed—it’s ok to study holiday traditions of every kind—except Christianity—in our schools.  It is important to teach our school children about everything, BUT the Christianity which is our heritage. 

It’s wrong.

Such a vote should be decided by the citizens of Loudoun County. The Courthouse is Property of The People, not the County.

It was actually Judge Horne’s decision years ago that allowed any display in the first place, so it makes sense that he would want to weigh in.

Maybe someone knows the answer to this question: The Facilities Comm. apparently didn’t have a problem with the displays until last year, so what changed? Were there suddenly more people walking on the grass than before? Was there some new security threat we haven’t heard about? Something had to have changed, and it would be helpful to understand what it was.

I think the question that everyone is grappling with (the BoS, the Facilities Comm, the judges) is this: What is better for the civic body as a whole - to have no displays at all, or to have a situation in which some participants might intentionally try to offend others to make a point? I know the 1st amendment guarantees our right to offend each other, but does that mean the Facilities Comm is obligated to…facilitate it? I’m not taking a position on it at this point - it’s just a question. Also, while it’s true that everyone who wanted to could have had a display last year, some chose not to participate precisely because they didn’t want to be associated with something that was becoming what the previous article termed “not so jolly.”

I do think that the problem the concerned parties are concerned about is not religious symbols, but rather animus. For example, the petition that was passed around contained some nasty comments about people of non-Christian faiths, as if they had anything to do with the prohibition. I can understand not wanting to provide a public forum for escalating animus of that sort.

I would also like to mention the grounds committee was appointed by the board. What we gathered from the public forum the Board was not fully briefed of the decision.  If the Judges were involved they worked through the committee not the board. The Board chastized the committee in public forum for going out on a limb.

Hi Festivus,
  This action was started by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors last year and a public ban was almost passed. This was not started by the judges. Myself and many others worked very hard last December to inform the public and to block a passing vote.  We were successful in our efforts because the Sterling Supervisor aided our efforts and still does today.  If you have any further questions I would be very happy to answer.  Thank you for you input.  I hope this statement clears this up for other readers as well.

It doesn’t sound like you understand the status of things regarding this topic. The Courthouse Facilities Committee chose to not take display applications last fall, then the public uproar brougth it to the attention of the BOS, the Board met and reversed the Committee’s prohibition, and everyone who wanted to got to put a display. ANd that is what the “rule” continues to be, but limited to a max of 10 as noted in the story.  The Judges, however, are concerned about security and wear-and-tear related to displays, and therefore, are more in line w/ the Committee’s prohibition than the the Board (who went against the Committee’s decision). SO I think you should be cheering the BOS, and asking the Judge’s to go w/ the Boards decision. If I’m way off, please, set the record straight.

The Leesburg’s version of the Pageant of Peace has been taking place on the Leesburg court house lawn for over 50 years.  This wasn’t an issue until the Board of Supervisors in my opinion tried to get their agenda passed quietly last November. The public was very fortunate to learn what was taking place.  A compromise was reached by the Board last December, and this year was completly forgotten without any regards to their constituents. There should not be an issue at all this year. From what I have gathered certain Supervisors did not like the displays and are injecting ther personal opionions in lieu of Citizens rights.  I believe Citizens of Loudoun are guaranteed freedom of Religon and Free Speech accorded to us by the US Constitution.  To deny all displays is anti American and downright dispresctful. The tax revenue collected from Loudoun residents goes in portion to maintain this land, and is therfore public. There is no article in the US Constitution stating there should be a seperation of Church and State.  This mindset was only a recommendation from Thomas Jefferson. Leesburg is rich in American History and has played an important role in our Country. The Declaration of Independance was proclaimed from the court house steps.  Leesburg was briefly the Capital of the US durring the war of 1812. The supervisors are letting the citizens of Loudoun County down if they continue to go down this path. Names of fallen soldiers mentioned on court house memorials prove the sacrifices made to this great Nation to defend our National Freedoms. Please tell the Supervisors this is wrong!

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