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Watchdog group blasts Cuccinelli on holiday displays opinion

Anita Kumar

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's decision to allow local governments to display religious symbols is "misguided" and may lead to lawsuits.

"This opinion reads more like an op-ed than a legal advisory,'' said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the group's executive director. "Cuccinelli is encouraging local governments to wade into a deeply controversial arena of the law without adequate guidance....It is a green light to religious right activists to cajole local officials into erecting sectarian displays on public property. Unless local officials are extremely careful, this is likely to lead to lawsuits."

Cuccinelli's opinion was a response to a request from Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who asked whether Loudoun County, under the U.S. and Virginia constitutions and state law law, must prohibit holiday displays on public property.

Read the opinion here.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia branch of the ACLU, described Cuccinelli's opinion as "accurate." He said localities can ban all displays, including those that are religious, or allow all displays.

But Lynn said Cuccinelli is joining the religious right's annual campaign to impose religion on all Americans at Christmas.

"Cucccinelli is turning Christmas, a holiday sacred to many, into another front in the culture war," said Lynn. "That's deplorable and about as far from the spirit of the season as you can get. If Cuccinelli wants to see a Nativity scene, why doesn't he put one in his front yard at home? He should not try to impose his personal religious beliefs on all Virginians through government action."

Lynn also criticized Cuccinelli's attempt to downplay the importance of church-state separation.

"When it comes to First Amendment analysis, I'll take Thomas Jefferson's view over Ken Cuccinnelli's any day,'' he said. "The framers wanted to keep government out of religion entirely; Cuccinnelli clearly has the opposite opinion."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Marshall said he requested the opinion from Cuccinelli after residents complained that Loudoun County officials banned structures, religious or otherwise, last year from the lawn of the century-old courthouse in Leesburg.

Update: Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said: "Issuing official opinions when they are requested is a part of the attorney general's job. Official opinions are not his personal opinions, but rather legal opinions. They do not mandate any behavior. They do not create law. They simply represent the attorney general's legal analysis of the current state of the law based on his thorough review of existing law and relevant prior court decisions."

By Anita Kumar  |  August 25, 2010; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Ken Cuccinelli  
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Title could also be... Watchdog group agrees with AG Opinion on holiday displays... focus on aclu rather than Barry Lynn. My guess is that Kent Willis had alot more to say than "accurate".

The update is funny... maybe that is news to most readers and even WAPO writers... they sure write their opinions as if they do not know those facts.

Posted by: BruceFairfax | August 27, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

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