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Loudoun 'War on Christmas' issue makes for strange allies

Rosalind Helderman

Apparently, Christmas can make for odd bedfellows.

In recent days, the ACLU of Virginia and deeply conservative Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R) have found themselves on the same side of a War on Christmas debate raging in Loudoun County. That happens as often as ... well, as Christmas landing in July.

The issue: Whether the Loudoun Board of Supervisors should retain a public forum space on the county's courthouse grounds in Leesburg, the traditional site for religious displays such as trees, nativity scenes and menorahs around Christmas and Hanukkah.

It's been an ongoing dispute. First a resident-led commission decided last November that the county should ban unattended displays at the courthouse because they were concerned about an increasing number of requests by public groups to use the space.

But the elimination drew unwelcome attention to the county after the commission denied a local rotary group's application to put a Christmas tree on court grounds.

So the Board of Supervisors stepped in and drew up a new policy: 10 groups are allowed to place displays in the public forum at any given time, on a first come, first served basis. The space is viewpoint neutral, and any group that follows the rules can participate.

But opening the public forum to all groups has meant allowing some unpopular views to be displayed. Concerned that the public forum was becoming a messy and difficult-to-manage free-for-all, the supervisors agreed to consider changing the rules or reinstating that ban on unattended displays. They've scheduled a vote for tomorrow to decide the issue.

Enter Delgaudio and the ACLU. They're both opposed to the ban. Delgaudio has written a series of notes to his supporters and posted them on his Web site. One asked residents to attend a public hearing on the issue because it was the "last chance for you to speak on religious liberty in Loudoun."

Another exhorted people to "save Christmas in July." His most recent missive, which arrived yesterday, was headlined, "Liberal Majorities: Nightmares on End."

The ACLU of Virginia meanwhile sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors today, urging them to maintain the public forum. In the letter, ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis wrote that he urged the board to address the issue "with an eye toward preserving the spirit of free expression that is so much a part of our nation's heritage and continuing vitality."

So on the same side are the ACLU and Delgaudio, perhaps best known for over-the-top rhetoric on gay rights issues deemed homophobic by many, including some of his fellow supervisors?

"At some point -- maybe only once in their life -- everyone agrees with the ACLU," Willis said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  July 19, 2010; 5:28 PM ET
Categories:  Loudoun County , Rosalind Helderman  
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In typical right wing fashion, Mr. Delgaudio wraps everything in the flag of religious freedom. However, I doubt he means religious freedon for Jews, Muslims, Buhddists or any other non-Christian. And he certainly doesn't mean atheists. Yet every point of view about a god, or lack there of, is valid and should have the same right of expression. So be careful waht you ask for Mr. Delgaudio, you may not like the results.

Posted by: oldwolf53 | July 20, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

I guess celebrating your religion at home and your church like every other religion that isn't the majority is not sufficient for some wingnuts.

Posted by: slydell | July 20, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

OldWolf and Slidell -
It's not just conservatives that are hankering to place their religious imagery there, it's Catholics, Christians, Jews, Moslems,Buddhists and those who celebrate Kwanzaa just to name a few. I doubt they are all Republicans. Atheism is not included because lack of a belief does not contitute a religion.

Religious freedom was the main reason for founding the US as well as the right to free speech. Just because you don't agree with someone does not make what they are doing wrong.

Posted by: webfool | July 20, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Why can't xmas displays be kept at church and on private property? The county doesn't have the funds to mow grass, so where is it supposed to find money for maintenance & clean up of these displays?

Further, this is a COURTHOUSE - a place of legal transactions - not religious celebrations.

Keep xmas in whatever church you belong or on your own lawn. And, of course, in the mall :))

Posted by: ms1234 | July 20, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

What part of separation of church and state don't religions understand? If you want a display, put it in your front yard or on church property. It is tiresome that the nations' majority religion (Christians) keep screaming persecution.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 20, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

jckdoors, you don't seem to understand what seperation of church and state means. It means the government does not have the right to establish a national religion, nothing more. There is nothing in the Constitution about religious displays on state property. And why is that so offensive? Stop your political bigotry - hating those who simply want to express their religious beliefs.

Posted by: alan8228 | July 20, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"Religious freedom was the main reason for founding the US"

Really? And you base this on...?? religion and religious freedom had nothing to do with the founding of Jamestown - the first succesful English settlement in America. It had nothing to do with the foundings of any of the early settlements in most of the other colonies either.
It had absolutely nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence or with the writing of the Constitution (which really formed the US). So yeah - there were the Pilgrims/Puritans in Mass, the Quakers in PA and the Catholics in Maryland, but that was pretty much it. And considering that CT and RI were founded by men who were driven out of Massachusetts because of their religious belief hardly bolsters the argument that places like Massachusetts were founded with "religious freedom" in mind. And the other colonies were founded and settled for economic reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with religion. The War of Independence had absolutely nothing to do with religion.

So asserting that "Religious freedom was the main reason for founding the US" really just either shows off your own myopic lack of knowledge of history, or is an attempt to shove a dishonest pro-relgious rewrite of history down the throats of the rest of us. Which is it?

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 20, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm devout Catholic. I don't need a Christmas Tree on the town square to honor God. If there are people who are flat-out offended, I'm not one to force my faith on them.

But I expect the same rules to apply to others.

Considering that Christmas, one of the most Holy events in the Catholic Church, has turned into a commercial orgy? - I might prefer a lower-key approach.

Posted by: mwcob | July 20, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

allan8228: Whay do you feel you need to display your religion on public property? Why isn't your home and church good enough? And, should a government property allow the displays that can certainly be construed as pushing religion. I think the bigotry here is yours against those that don't want religion shoved down our throats. Have a nice time in church.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 20, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

What part of "...endowed by their Creator..." can't you handle? While their views varied, the majority of the founding fathers believed in a Deity, if not organized religion.

Posted by: gtb31 | July 20, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

"What part of "...endowed by their Creator..." can't you handle?"

obviously gtb31 has reading comprehension and language issues.

It takes a weird leap of logic to pull out one line from the Declaration of Independence, out of all of the other many things in there about why we were declaring our independence - not to mention ignoring the entire rest of our history - and say that that means that "religious freedom was the main reason" that the US was founded. That line in the Declaration of Independence actually has nothing to do with "religious freedom". Quit trying to rewrite history to pretend things that aren't there - it's really insulting to the rest of us.

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 20, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For those who failed to take the time to read the Constitution, yet like to mis- quote it there is no reference to seperation of church and state other than to say that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

Posted by: jimbo327 | July 20, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"For those who failed to take the time to read the Constitution, yet like to mis- quote it there is no reference to seperation of church and state other than to say that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof""

Sure - but what in there gives churches and relgious groups special rights such that they claim to have a right to have displays on public property such that any neutral regulation of the public property becomes a violation of religious liberty and a "War on Christmas"?

Congress cannot make laws dictating that religious people can't worship the way they want in their churches - I don't think anybody has a problem with that - but why do Christians demand special rights for themselves on the public (i.e., belonging to all) property?

Seems like the religionists on here just want to keep mouthing the same platitudes but are unable to actually apply them to the issues and discussion at hand.

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 20, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Don't the Christians who are constantly insisting that someone is waging war on Christianity realize that war was waged against them successfully a loooong time ago? Xmas is the time of year when the economy is either made or ruined for the year. It's all about the money, so forget Jesus in the temple with the moneychangers, the moneychangers won. And you can't keep quoting the Bible when you ignore that it is a blasphemy unto God to work on the Sabbath. Stop saying that God hates gays and abortion and socialism and liberals and telling everyone that it's in the Bible when all you do is cherry pick. In fact, isn't the Bible being re-written to reflect a more conservative political viewpoint? I cringe to think of the beating that Jesus is going to take when the right gets through with him.

Posted by: curtb | July 20, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Jamestown was founded by people who left their home county so they could be free to worship their religion and not be forced to follow the state religion. Red your history book. Seperation of Church and State is to keep the state out of the church, that's what it means, so we are not forced to have a State Religion and be forced to believe like the State wants us to.

Posted by: cynthiajordan | July 20, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I say yes they should retain a public forum space.Oh wait ,what was the issue again?

Posted by: self-taughtilliterate | July 20, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Please - let's just plant a Flowering dogwood, Cornaceae Cornus florida, Virginia's State Tree on the Court House lawn. Put a few generic decorations on it representing everyone's point of view, let's say a flag, 5"x7" maximum size and call it the "Loudoun County Holiday/New Year Tree. Conflict done and everyone is happy!

Posted by: leesburg123 | July 20, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

"Jamestown was founded by people who left their home county so they could be free to worship their religion and not be forced to follow the state religion. Red your history book. " jamestown was founded as an economic corporation - read YOUR history. Religion had absolutely NOTHING to do with the founding of Jamestown.

I always am amazed at how many people are so ignorant of their own country's actual history yet insist that everything has to do with religion.

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 20, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

You continue to distort. I am not saying that this country was founded SOLELY to find freedom of religion but this was definitely one of many reasons why people came here, and continue to come here, as my paternal grandfather did to escape the Syrians and my maternal grandfather did to escape the Russians. My sole point is that the founding fathers almost to a man believed in some sort of Deity. Those who deny that deny history.

Posted by: gtb31 | July 20, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

what is distorting? I'm not the one who asserted ""Religious freedom was the main reason for founding the US"" and that is what I've been arguing about. If you are trying to pretend that I've been saying something else then you are the one who is distorting.

The plain fact is, religious freedom was NOT, by a long shot, the main reason for founding the US". It was not the reason that most of the colonies were settled in the first place, it was not the reason why we declared independence from Great Britain and it was not the reason why we wrote the Constitution (which is what actually *founded* the US).

Now which of these facts are you going to accuse me of distortion?

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 20, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

From: Demmon v. Loudon County Public Schools, 342 F. Supp. 2d 474 (E.D. Va. 2004:
The three recognized types of fora are the traditional public forum, the nonpublic forum, and the
designated or limited public forum. Goulart, 345 F.3d at 248 (citing Ark. Educ. Television Comm'n v.
Forbes, 523 U.S. 666, 677, 118 S. Ct. 1633, 140 L. Ed. 2d 875 (1998)); Warren v. Fairfax County, 196
F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 1999). The first category of government property, the traditional public forum, is
a place that “by long tradition or by government fiat ha[s] been devoted to assembly and debate.”
Goulart, 345 F.3d at 248 (citing Perry Educ. Ass'n, 460 U.S. at 45, 103 S. Ct. 948). “The government
may not prohibit all expressive activity in a traditional public forum, and content-based restrictions on
speech are valid only if they are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Id. “The state
may also enforce regulations of the time, place, and manner of expression which are content-neutral, are
narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of
communication.” Id. The classic public fora are public parks, streets, or meeting halls. See id. at 248 n. 8.
If this space is a "traditional" public forum, then the debate should be about managing and maintaining the space - PERIOD.

That Delgaudio and the ACLU are on the same side for different reasons, isn't quite enough to push an agnostic off the fence...but close! ;)

Long live Public Forums! Embracing THAT notion is key to keeping our hard-fought-for freedoms! As for the first amendment, I offer one of my favorite movie quotes (The American President):

--- America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." ---

Posted by: MsAnnThrope | July 21, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

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