Virginia Attorney General says Holiday Displays on Public Property Are Allowed…

Last month, Brittany Meyer mentioned a controversy taking place in Loudoun County, Virginia, regarding holiday displays on public property:

One side, the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee wants to ban all displays. The other side, including many community members and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio, thinks all displays should be allowed — apparently even atheist ones.

Today, the state’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, weighed in on the issue (PDF).

… it is my opinion that a local governmental entity is never categorically compelled to prohibit holiday displays, including those incorporating recognizably religious symbols, because governments enjoy considerable discretion in accommodating the religious expression of their citizens and employees and in their own recognition of traditional seasonal holidays. It is further my opinion that displays depicting the birth of Jesus Christ are permissible provided the government ensures appropriate content and context.

In other words, the town can display a Nativity Scene on public property, but they must also allow for displays from people who celebrate the holidays differently.

Frankly, I’m fine with that. It’s legal as long as Christianity isn’t the only display allowed to be there. No other group’s display can be disallowed on account of religion.

So… are there any atheists in Loudoun County who can create a Flying Spaghetti Monster display? And who’s filling out the requisite paperwork to make that happen?

Let’s get to it, people! The Attorney General supports you!

(Thanks to Meredith for the link)

  • http://theradula.blogspot.com Dorid

    I’m all for it. So long as it’s equitable, and they aren’t going to shut down atheist displays, pagan displays, or Muslim displays (or anything else anyone comes up with)

  • Brice Gilbert

    I’m assuming this would require no money spent by the government itself right? These are put up by citizens correct?

  • A Portlander

    Isn’t this just opening the door to the same absurdity PZ covered in the Washington state capitol a couple of years ago?

  • flawedprefect

    Um… does the Flying Spaghetti Monster HAVE a Xmas story? If so, what is it? I’d love to tell my kids someday.

  • Loudoun County Girl

    I live here in Loudoun County – Gov. McDonnell and AG “Kookinelli” are the bane of our existence here in Virginia. As I recall, last year there was a benign atheist display at the courthouse – something like “Solstice is the Reason for the Season” – of course the article in the paper named the person responsible for the display (inviting harassment?), but didn’t name anyone behind any of the more traditional displays. Personally, I’d like to see a display with Santa bent over baby jesus in the manger, or a giant FSM, but since there is limited space on the lawn, I have a feeling that they’ll be quite selective. Apparently they are going to revisit the issue at a meeting in September, so I will stay tuned! Frankly, I don’t see why they have to litter our courthouse lawn with displays at all – god knows there are enough churches and private residences that would suffice!

  • gski

    I hope no one puts up a display of the spaghetti monster, it will be seen by the religious as those evil atheists mocking their faith. Atheists must be seen to be adding to the community not disrespecting it. A respectful explanation of our point of view may be a better choice. Or announce the plan to perform a community service. Donating food for the poor, rides on new years eve …

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    I’m sure Cuccinelli doesn’t mean anything as enlightened as Hemant’s kind interpretation of the Virginia attorney general’s words, but there could be quite a lot of fun in putting them to the test.

    By the way, I think the FSM’s Xmas story must be related to the poor college student’s little jar of spaghetti sauce that never ran out! A holiday miracle!

  • The Other Tom

    So… we can all put up displays for our holidays, right? So we can put up a display for Stonewall Gay Rights Day in June? And earlier in June, a celebration of the Loving v. Virginia case? They have to allow these, right? Because if they only allow december holidays, then they’re implicitly endorsing the abrahamic religions.

  • Skunque

    Ah, Cuccinelli. This was the man I warned anyone who would listen to me about last year when he was running. McDonnell caught the most flak, but it’s Cuccinelli you have to be worried about, because he has no ambitions for higher office, and his #1 priority is rolling back VA to the 1950′s (or 1800′s).

    He was most prominently in the news for pressuring our state schools to rescind their discrimination policies as it applies to homosexuality, and (this week) trying to enact regulations on abortion providers that would have the effect of financially shutting down 75% of them.

    By contrast his opinion on religious displays is downright ho-hum. This is a man to watch out for, and I cannot wait until he is voted out of office (unfortunately unlike the governor, VA atty general has no term limit.).

  • Zoe

    What about a display that explains how atheists celebrate? Instead of making fun of the religious aspect (Flying Spaghetti Monster), perhaps a more positive display focussing on the other aspects of the holidays that atheists (may) appreciate is more appropriate.

  • JB Tait

    A Solstice tree with attribution?

  • Rollingforest

    Okay, the problem I see here is that the Attorney General’s opinion says that the county should accommodate the citizens’ religious expression, but that’s not the same thing as allowing all religious displays. The county could just say “sorry, Christians make up the vast majority of the population so they get the vast majority of the lawn space and we no longer have any room for you atheists.” We can’t fit everyone’s displays on the lawn. Will this proportional representation just be used to lock out minority faiths and atheists from expressing themselves on public property?

  • Andrew

    There has been a lot of talk recently about “being nice” and I would agree that both sides are necessary for good strategy. There are however a whole host of reasons why I will never be the one to sit there and play nice.

    If religious people want to have the Government endorse their faith then we can certainly point out how ridiculous their faith actually is, maybe we can even do it in a way that shows them what they lose when the Government declares their religious symbols to be secular. And we’ll be helping out the religious people because having an atheist display next to a religious one, makes it less likely to be seen as an endorsement of religion.

    So how about a Diorama of the FSM creating the world which we’ll say he did in one day, a day which was the shortest day, (because he’s awesome like that, and it takes place around the winter solstice) and he did all this using only a giant cross and the light from a menorah. Or something like that.

  • Demonhype

    Oh, anything an atheist puts up will be seen as disrespectful, gski. Look at all those billboards that simply claim that 1) atheists exist and 2) atheists aren’t evil people. A simple “hello, I’m an atheist and I’m a good person just like you” was seen as unforgivably evil and rude and disrespectful. Do you really think a sweet and simple display of our views is going to get an “oh, okay, well at least they’re respectful”? These are people who want it all and will not give an inch, and cry persecution when some disenfranchised minority anywhere gets a fair shake and their overprivileged status is threatened at all.

    @Rollingforest: I doubt that it would be constitutional to say “well the majority is christian, so you non-christians/atheists need to sit down and shut up”. That “mob rule” argument has been used for years and shot down most of the time (unless the judge is particularly clueless/unethical/overChristianized, of course, and cares more for the supremacy of his faith uber alles than the Constitution he is sworn to uphold). No religion, no matter how majority it might be, has the right to special endorsement of its views, which is what this “proportional” thing entails. There is no such thing as our government being partitioned out according to number of adherents of every view: “75% Christian, 16% non-religious, 9% non-Christian religous”. The government represents that single atheist/muslim/hindu/jew/etc. in a community every bit as much as the two-hundred Christians, and it would be the same even if the proportions were reversed. If there is an atheist in town who wants a display, they’d better put it the fuck up or else they are definitely violating the Constitution.

  • Catherine

    I live in Loudoun County and have been considering some sort of display for the holiday season since this whole thing started last year. I am well known in Cuccinelli’s office because I consistently flood his office with emails about his ridiculous opinions on health care, immigration, education and church and state separation. I don’t know how successful any displays will be though because this area is fairly religious. I had a scarlet A sticker on my car that someone vandalized with white out.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    What about atheists errecting a big cross with atheist statements all over it.

    “don’t believe in god”
    “no evidence for god”
    “religion is merely wishful thinking”
    “pro-scientific method”,
    “good for goodness sakes”
    etc…

    Since Crosses are not susposed to be christian symbols any more, why not co-opt it.

  • http://mingfrommongo.livejournal.com mingfrommongo

    I’m so glad that I moved back to Virginia; it’s the best place on earth. Obviously when the state and local governments are able to spend time on issues like this it means that everyone has a job and every child gets a great education.

    I really don’t see anything wrong with the AG’s statement (neither does the ACLU), but I am against spending tax dollars to redecorate on a monthly basis. I also think that Cuccinelli has set himself up for trouble down the line. When Loudon County get sued for setting up a dominantly Xtian display in December, officials there will whine “But the Attoney General said it was OK!”

  • evilspud500

    I live in loudoun county, hell, I live in walking distance of the leesburg courthouse!

    I have to say, an FSM display does not suit the archetecture of the town. May I recomend something along the lines of a paper mache Vonnegurt, or Neitzsche? Or a stained glass winter solstice, Jesus totally a jew kinda thing?

  • Staceyjw

    Ugh, why can’t xtians just leave their nativity scenes at their churches? Those churches usually own the best land in town, usually at a prominent Location too.
    my parents live in Cambridge Ohio, which is an old small town built so that the main road goes right up to the town square, where the city hall and court are. You know the type. Every year they have an enormous nativity on the town square, and I find it irritating. maybe they will get an atheist sign this year.

    As for the FSM on display, it is no more offensive than a crucifix or nativity.I hope someone puts one up!!!

  • http://esantipapa.com Eric Santiago

    This post needs an update :-)

    http://mddailyrecord.com/2010/09/08/from-jesus-to-jedi-loudon-county-oks-displays/

    I think the Jedi angle is better than FSM…

    More updates on this topic: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/08/AR2010090804480.html

    If you’d like to help with the Jedi display, please contact me.

  • http://www.ucmjdefense.com Military Attorney

    I’m so glad that I moved back to Virginia; it’s the best place on earth. Obviously when the state and local governments are able to spend time on issues like this it means that everyone has a job and every child gets a great education.

  • ian hall

    to all u atheists out there ur all wrong there is a god his name is jesus he will come again maybenot in my lifetime but he will come again you will all see on judgemnet day that you are wrong and even if we don’t have displays he is still real whether we have displays or not turn away from your atheist ways or whta ever religion u are and join the true God the christian god

  • ian hall

    what the heck is a flying spaghetti monster

  • rifjf

    it what you are


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