Thanks to Christians, Atheist Holiday Displays Will Flourish in Loudoun County December 1, 2011

Thanks to Christians, Atheist Holiday Displays Will Flourish in Loudoun County

For the past couple of years, there has been a battle in Loudoun County, Virginia over which displays, if any, should be allowed in front of the county courthouse.

Last year, the courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee wanted to ban all displays, while the county Supervisor and other community members wanted to continue to allow all displays — including atheist ones. (Both options would’ve been legal.)

Even the state’s notoriously conservative Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli weighed in on the matter because he wanted to see nativity scenes in front of the courthouse:

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.

Of course, the only legal way to allow nativity scenes at the courthouse is to allow non-Christian displays as well.

After all the discussion, the county decided to continue allowing all displays. The rules were as follows: 10 displays would be allowed on the courthouse grounds and applications would be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cuccinelli and his allies wanted to open the door for nativity scenes… but it turns out they kept the floodgates open for atheists.

Of the ten displays this year, only three of them are Christian: two nativity scenes and a “letter from Jesus.”

The rest? Well, just check out this list:

A sign showing a picture of the Easter Bunny, Santa and Jesus Christ with text that states, “Myths for Young and Old,” a quote from Thomas Edison and information about the Loudoun Atheists, submitted by Leesburg resident Emmert Elsea.

A banner with the text “Celebrating our Constitution” and language about keeping church and state separate, submitted by Leesburg resident Rick Wingrove. The banner comes from American Atheists and NOVA Atheists.

A banner promoting “reason in the holiday season,” submitted by Lansdowne resident Larry Mendoza.

A holiday display that will either be a Tree of Knowledge or a holiday message sign, from Sterling resident Lydia Rice.

A sign about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, submitted by Leesburg resident Ken Levesque.

Another sign from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, this one with a holiday message, submitted by Matthew Courtney of Reston.

Oh. And there’s some art work featuring Santa on a cross to show “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.”

How amazingly blasphemous and wonderful is that?!

If that’s not awesome enough, it turns out that one of the display spaces may be out of commission… meaning the county would have to cut the number of displays down to nine. That means axing the last application that was approved… which would be one of the nativity scenes 🙂

This is actually the second year atheists have taken advantage of this let-all-displays-flourish policy — last year, they had six displays as well.

Thanks to Ken Cuccinelli and all the Christians who supported the idea of allowing all displays on the courthouse grounds! It backfired on you, completely, but the holiday season just got better for the rest of us.

(Thanks to Holly for the link!)

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  • Anonymous

    I like all of them with the exception of crucified Santa. I think that’s perfectly acceptable stuff for adults, but the public space will include children, some very young children, and I don’t think that’s the sort of thing they need to see. Hopefully it’s cartoon-like and not one of those overly realistic gory crucifixion scenes.

    Yes, I understand churches have images of Jesus on the cross all over the place, but in practice the reaction is different. I can see where a violent image of a beloved character (that some kids actually believe is real) would be upsetting for many kids. Surely you can make your point in a way that isn’t going to cause parents a headache.

    To be clear, I don’t think such things should be banned. Speech is speech. I just don’t think its particularly helpful.

  • Rod Chlebek

    I generally like all but ones that say essentially “you’re doing it wrong”, or come off as being crass or mockery. I think there can be another venue for that. Maybe the motive is to ban all displays? I would be fine with that too.

  • I’m not sure whether seeing crucified santas of jesuses is damaging to kids or not, but there isn’t any difference between the two of them, so if we are fine with crucified christs in the public we should also be fine with santas.

  • When I have children, I’m not going to teach them to believe in Santa, Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, and God. I remember the despair of having been lied to all these years about each and every one of them.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. In practice they are different, even if in theory they should be the same. Children brought up in the Western world will have been exposed to crucifixion images almost from birth. They are basically impossible to avoid. The end result of this is that the image loses its shock factor. It becomes background noise and you don’t even really “see” it.

    Change the character, and suddenly the image comes to your attention again. You really do see it in all it’s horrifically violent splendor. If you’re an adult, you may be amused or find it distasteful. If you’re a child, it can be upsetting.

    Put it this way…if we were talking about children from a Brazilian Amazon tribe who knew nothing of Santa or Jesus, then I would agree the images are exactly equivalent in practice. For American kids? Not so much.

  • Considering the law is meant to uphold equality and fairness, the “first-come-first-served” policy was a seriously bad idea. Yeah, it’s no longer solely Christian displays, but now it’s Christian and Atheist. Which is good. Progress.
    But, what about the other religions that have just as much right to have a display? Ten display spaces should mean ten viewpoints represented, not two.

  • Cobwebs

    That actually could have a positive outcome, though, as it might make people realize just how horrific the Jesus-on-a-stick images really are.   A crucifixion scene *shouldn’t* lose its shock value, no matter who’s being crucified. 

  • Which ten?

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    One problem with that would be that it would put the government in the position to regulate what views are expressed. e.g., is a sign/display from one atheist or christian group “different enough” (per the government) to “count” as being different than an already-accepted sign/display. It would thus put the government in the position of deciding which viewpoints merit expression.

  • Johannsone

    I’m guessing the Jewish community ran the other direction. And as far as Santa on a cross..kind of confusing for kids who buy into it, someone killing santa and all. .. My son never believed in Santa and we never encouraged it. Maybe the cross should have been made out of gift boxes as a lark. Why can’t we just celebrate with lights and a sign that fits all, you know like  .. wishing everyone the joy of peace, love .. or whatever. I may have to agree with nothing vs everything. It actually looks and sounds as ridiculous as religion now. Christians ruin everything..even christmas. 
    Looking for a gift that fits one and all, consider reason this season. 

  • Justin Melick

    No, you’re Mr. Atheist. We only need one Nativity Scene.  That’s all we ever wanted and we got it.  How sad that all the Atheist ones attack or mock Christians in some form or other. Don’t you have anything to celebrate?

  • Poolio

    I agree…  A crucified Santa is in bad taste and a violation of the good will that should be engendered by the season and by the practitioners of these displays.  Representing different viewpoints is a great idea, but this crosses a line of basic decency. Whatever the justification for this display, it’s intent is to shock and offend.

    It’s like those political ads I hate… the ones that trash the opponent without saying anything positive about their own candidate.  We should all feel a responsibility to raise up the human condition, not drag it down into the mud.

    I hope they reconsider.  There are so many positive ways to present atheism without drawing negative attention to yourself or atheists in general.

  • the constitution…see above?

  • Aanton

    They tried that in Indianapolis many years ago. Within days, all the non-Xian displays in the north lobby were destroyed by vandals. Next year, not even a Yule tree…

  • Trace

    People are so going to hate us this year at Loudon County.
    I really want to see a picture of the crucified Santa. That should be something. Of course they may not allow it: “…provided the government ensures appropriate content and context”.

  • Anonymous

    Someone didn’t read the post!

  • Alix

    I’m a Catholic, and I have no problem with having all sorts of different displays depicting all the reasons people are joyous during the winter months. What I’d like to see from Atheists are displays showing the reason for your joy. Christians are joyful because of the commemoration of the birth of our Lord. Jews are celebrating a great miracle. Some Pagans are celebrating Sol Invictus, and some Saturnalia, or some other feast. People who have no particular faith are celebrating the arrival of gingerbread lattes, or the time of year when people are generally nicer to each other, and don’t cut you off in traffic as much, or the arrival of snow… All reasons for joy (or, at least, a kind of warm glow.)

    Three of the above ten displays (the “Myths for Young and Old, and the 2 FSM) are simply reactions against Christianity. I see no joy. They seem juvenile, and too-clever-by-half. Just bitter. Off-putting. I am always interested in reading and considering the points made by Atheists, and people of other faiths, and comparing them against my own beliefs, but I almost always come away from Atheism without seeing the joy… I’d really like to see the reason for your joy in these displays. Please, put them up. Put them on buses, in front of courthouses, and on front lawns, but show us the reason for your happiness instead of mocking ours. 

    The whole Santa crucified thing is, to me, in poor taste, but I’m sure the artist was trying to make a good point about consumerism, or something. It doesn’t bother me the way the others do, strangely enough.

    I like the Constitution one, and the Reason one. More like these, please. So we can all celebrate together! I’ll bring the egg nog!

  • Gus Snarp

    I’d rather see nothing on the courthouse grounds. When did this become the space for everybody to put up their holiday decorations?  Maybe it’s an old tradition some places and I’ve just never lived any of those places, but aren’t there plenty of churches hosting nativities?

    And the answer to the unconstitutionality of the nativity is to allow anything and everything, uncurated, first come, first served? The inevitable result is just a bunch of lawn clutter in front of the courthouse.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are atheist displays, but this all just seems a little much, and, as with license plates, it seems to me that the right answer is to knock off this silliness and let government be government and express your ideas about Christmas, religion, and abortion on your own time and space.

    But, again, I’m an old curmudgeon.

  • T-Rex

    That AG is just full of opinions, not that they are legal under our constitution, but when has that ever stopped religious nut jobs from pushing their mythology on others. I bet the lawn in front of that court house looks f’ing rediculous and I hope all those annoying idiots fighting the in the “War on Xmas” that doesn’t exist get good an pissed every time they go by. I bet after this season they’ll end up banning all displays since the Xians are out numbered. Just watch.

  • Gus Snarp

    You know, I’ve agonized over the whole Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy thing. My wife very much wanted to keep those traditions, and they are fun, but I hate the idea of lying to children. I’ve gone with a compromise in which I never actually make any case that any of these things actually exist, and if asked, my response is always: what do you think? But now, as I look back on my own childhood, I realize that I never REALLY believed in those things. I was not remotely surprised to discover there was no Santa Claus, because it simply confirmed what I always suspected. I didn’t experience any despair, because none of them seemed all that real to me. God I did believe in, but certainly felt no despair upon discovering he was a lie. I’ve come to think most kids are similar, that real belief in Santa is very rare, after all, every pop culture story about him is entirely different, with different origins, rules, sets of reindeer – kind of like Spiderman, different in different eras of comics, different in the movies, different on the old electric company, different in the newspaper comic – it seems a clear indication that he’s fictional. There’s also that bit in every Santa Claus movie ever made in which grown ups don’t believe in him. I think kids are primed to recognize Santa as a fun thing to imagine, but not necessarily real.

  • Anonymous

    To be fair, that display itself does not seem to be about atheism at all, but about rejecting materialism. However in the context of all the other displays, it will probably be interpreted as a pro-atheist, anti-Christmas display, unfortunately.

  • This all does make me a bit uncomfortable, since although I agree whole-heartedly with it, “Myths for young and old!” is not exactly spreading holiday cheer.  In the cultural context, I get it and support it.  But I just have one question:

    Where are the just regular secular santa-y displays?

    To me, Christmas is about Santa and colored lights and evergreen trees and glitter and Rudolph and snowflakes and stuff.  I don’t want to see Baby Jeebus, and I don’t really want to see a critique of religion either (don’t get me wrong, I love criticizing religion and reading criticisms of it; it’s just not what I’m looking for when I go to see the town’s holiday display!)  

    Someday, perhaps, this will all be behind us?  Man wouldn’t that be awesome…  Until that time, i.e. as long as people are pushing hard to ram nativity scenes down our throats, I whole-heartedly support the confrontationalism.  But wouldn’t it be lovely if we didn’t need to…  At least not at Xmastime!  Ah well…

  • Anonymous

    My parents did the Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and God thing with me and I NEVER felt betrayed.  When I realized these beings weren’t real (God much later than the rest), it was just business as usual and now, we are ALL Santa at Christmastime.

    We did all but God with our son and when he realized they weren’t real, we asked why… he used his math reasoning about the impossibility of the delivery in one night and he caught us exchanging his teeth for money.  We explained they are all the spirit of generosity disguised in a costume for kids to love. 

    When I hear that someone felt lied to or betrayed, I’ve always wondered how their parents handled them finding out and why they feel that way because I don’t know anyone personally who felt that way.  It’s very curious to me.

  • It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t reverse the initial problem. it just adds to it. This just further desensitizes the children.

    Not that I actually have a problem with that though. I think the more people get desensitized the better. The less shocked people get the less offended and dramatic they’ll be. Every time the bar is pushed further everyone gets more freedom of expression because there’s less people bitching about it. Could you imagine if a movie as graphic as the Saw series was released in the 60s? It would have been outlawed before they even got a chance to screen it. Yes, I know it can make some people less sensitive to real violence, but that’s a price worth paying for more free expression.

  • I understand where you’re coming from, but doing it any other way is just asking for trouble. Like the other 2 have said, it puts government in the position of deciding what has merit and what doesn’t. What do you mean other religious views? Who says the displays even have to be religious? If so, that just furthers the problem by letting the government decide what is and isn’t a religious belief. If requirements were left too vague you’d get the exact same result because everyone would make up fake religious beliefs to be counted as just different enough to meet the requirements. It’ll be a game. For every requirement each application will just be tweaked slightly enough to make it through. And if not, how do they decide which atheist display gets in? Which Christian one? That creates another game. Atheists will submit seemingly Christian applications and then slant the display in an atheistic way. Christians will do the same for an Atheist display. It’s just one giant headache that would NEVER work the way you want it to.

  • Conspirator

    These people who whine about “lies” and “betrayal” drive me up a wall.  Seriously, it’s just not that big of a deal.  At some point I realized that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real and it didn’t bother me one bit.  It’s all in good fun.  It’s part of our culture.

    Kids believe in all sorts of things.  I’m sure at one point I thought the muppets were real and then I just grew out of it.  Are you going to sit with your kids while watching Sesame Street and constantly remind them that those are puppets?  

    If you felt betrayed by your parents as a child over these things and it bothers you still then there must be some deeper issue you’re not dealing with and you should run to your nearest mental health practitioner.  And please, don’t have kids until you have figured this out. 

  • Conspirator

    Our joy comes from presents, because that’s what Christmas is all about.  And ham and sweet potatoes.  But mostly it’s presents.  Oh, and a paid day off from work or no school, depending on your age.  But really, it’s all about the presents.  

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if this is really a victory.  Am I the only one who feels the displays should not be 2 warring ideas slapping at each other?  I thought the idea was for diversity or nothing.  I am all for being an outspoken atheist and not one to cow-tow to people taking offense at an expression of disbelief (or differing belief) but I think using this opportunity to overtake a small local display and crucify Santa is in pretty poor taste.  Atheists certainly deserve equal footing and freedom to express our nonbelief and thirst for reason but is this really an example of accomplishing those goals or are we just “winning?”

  • Catherine

    For once, I am proud to be a loudoun resident!

  • Mary

    I actually agree with the earlier catholic comment about showing the reason for your joy. Think of all the great things that atheists could promote in a setting like this! Religious people often think there are no morals and ethics without religion…basically no goodness. We could promote generosity, kindness, goodwill, the search for greater understanding, and even hot chocolate. 🙂 If this tradition continues in the county, I’d love to see some signs like that next year, with small emblems from the FSM or atheist orgs underneath the positive messages. I love the constitution one, btw.

  • Alix

    See, this is what I’m talking about, Conspirator… ham is a cause of joy I can totally understand! Thank you 🙂

  • T-Rex

    I celebrate a perfectly secular Christmas. I also celebrate when our Constitution is observed and defended from religious nut jobs that have to post their religious symbol on public land because having one nativity scene in front of every fucking church in town just isn’t enough. Happy Holidays!

  • I’m a born atheist and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think signs like those negative ones you mention are appropriate in this type of venue. It makes atheists seem bitter and petty and more “achristianists” than anything.

  • absolutely. But then, I’m also an old curmudgeon.

  • Frankly, all the time, effort, expense, etc. of these damn displays irritates the sheee-ite out of me. There are PLENTY… make that MORE THAN PLENTY…. holiday displays all over the place. Why do government spaces need to do it, too??? The answer is no holiday displays on government property. Unless, it’s like a decoration on your office or desk or something.

  • Drew M.

    Get off mah lawn!

  • Winto_bungle

    atheism isnt a worldview – theres no such thing as an atheist christmas, we are joyful for many different things, atheism doesnt have a position on xmas (apart from its a celebration of a myth we dont believe in).

    this display is a reminder that if you want to peddle your religion in front of a government building you only have the right if all others are allowed to.

    there are plenty of seasonal messages out there – how many atheistic opportunities are there? these messages are important.

  • Michael Appleman

    I find it odd that they are allowing displays from people who are not residents of Loudoun county.

  • Michael Appleman

    I kind of agree. It isn’t necessarily fair, it simply abdicates them of responsibility

  • What, no Festivus Pole?

  • Anonymous

    The knowledge that Santa wasn’t real was a huge blow to me.  I actually was devastated by it.  It may have not been a big deal to you, but it was to me.  Maybe it was because I wanted so much to believe that something magical like Santa could exist.  As a kid, I did realize that Santa’s powers seemed impossible, but so were a lot of the myths my parents and other adults kept telling me were real.  I spent much mental energy trying to quell my doubts and suppress the evidence that proved Santa was only an imaginary fairytale.  I do think that finally having my fears confirmed that Santa wasn’t real was what started fracturing my belief in a god.  The experience really did open my eyes and let me see the world differently than before.

    I just take issue with your dismissing other people’s experience and perspective so out-of-hand.  It seems immature and petty.  Just because it didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean that others are wrong if they have a different experience.  It doesn’t mean everyone else is mentally ill!

  • Mikelhensley

    I like the Church And State Banner in particular. That is a positive message. Others of the displays celebrate reason, knowledge, and freedom. These are not just spitting at Christians. It is the start of new joyful holiday traditions!

  • Demonhype

    I think a distinct joy for atheists is seeing Christian and/or religious privilege challenged.  Putting up a “Hooray for Santa and Ham” sign would be pretty status quo,  since everything in December prior to the challenge from atheists has either been Jesus-based or Santa-and-presents-generic-symbol-based and that did nothing to challenge the idea that Christians reign supreme over that time of year because those sorts of “I love gingerbread” sentiments don’t directly tie into any religious view at all so there is absolutely no challenge implicit to the Christian Christmas image.

    I’ll tell you something else:  Simply seeing a direct challenge to that privilege and a direct implication that non-Christians and non-believers have an equal part and an equal claim to the holiday season is certainly a source of joy for me, after so many years of Jesus-broken-only-by-Santa kinds of sentiments!  Not to mention that Tree of Knowledge seems like a source of joy too–there’s the joy in knowledge and also presents, because books can be gifts and there’s a lot of good suggestions right there!

    Fact is, most atheist things have been reactions to Christianity simply because of the massive amounts of privilege that need to be cut through.  In places where religion doesn’t impose itself into inappropriate places atheists just celebrate things that are fun or good or sources of joy without tying them to atheism, because there’s no need.  If more believers could be happy with the secular Santa and gingerbread images being displayed on publicly owned land, kept their religious stuff on church property or otherwise private property, and didn’t feel the need to have the government endorse their faith uber alles, this conversation wouldn’t even exist.

  • A recent Atheist Revolution  e-mail said that quite often
    the pressure to include nonChristian displays (esp.atheist ones)
    is enough to get ALL displays banned, and that’s not bad.

  • Victoria

    That’s pretty much the tack that we’ve taken with our seven-year-old. We’ve never pushed the ideas, but when she’s come home with them we’ve not utterly smacked them down. She figured out very, very early–before age 4–that Santa Claus wasn’t real but decided that she wanted to believe. We told her that’s fine — she can believe what she wants.

  • I enjoyed your “that some kids actually believe is real” comment. Why wouldn’t it be offensive to show Jesus n the cross as well then? Some misguided people actually believe he was real, too.

  • This holds no water. If you banned showing images of Jesus on the cross, kids wouldn’t get desensitized to that, either. And don’t you think it is problematic, even within that faith, that its followers grow desensitized to the very act that alleges to have brought them salvation?

  • The only problem with that is – why does the display have to show a reason for joy? What if your beliefs relating to the season aren’t necessarily joyful? Does that mean your beliefs are lesser and should be suppressed?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do understand where your coming from. It would be better PR for us atheists to go positive and win them over with kindness, and our message might be greeted with ever-so-slightly less hostility, hate, and fear. Then again, I’m not one for turning the other cheek – and on top of the report that aired today about religious people trusting atheists as much as they trust rapists, it’s hard for me to worry about winning over such profound ignorance. Feeling very conflicted right now.

  • I didn’t personally feel betrayed. I realized that my parents were not honest people, at least not all the time. It prompted me to be more inquisitive and less trusting, to take a more critical, skeptical look at things. So I guess, in a way, my innocence was lost. But I think it was a great discovery, all in all.

  • Geeforson

    Look, without any atheist submissions it would be a solid wall of Christian symbols (3 were approved, remember? That’s not diversity either). That’s their intention, as revealed by the AG’s comments. There shouldn’t even be a religious display on the lawn here, but since they have this burning desire to push their religion in as many ways as they can, the best outcome is to turn it around into a backfire.

  • Geeforson

    Which is why there ought to be no display at all. There are so many religions (and worldviews, if we want to go there) and divisions within religions that this *cannot* cover everyone, and is guaranteed to disappoint someone. The display only exists because someone thought it was government’s role to help push religion down the populace’s throats, and of course it’s backfired for second year in a row and will hopefully continue to backfire until they cut it the hell out.

  • Left of Larry
  • The problem with the crucified Santa is context.  The cross has nothing to do with Christmas, from a cultural perspective (ignoring the fact that most of the holiday traditions have nothing to do with Christianity for just this moment).  Amusing, sure, but it fails to truly resonate in my view due to the lack of vision.  Santa crucified on a Christmas tree, on the other hand, would be a great improvement.

  • Anonymous

    Funny story: My wife almost got busted putting a dollar under our son’s pillow after he lost a tooth (he wasn’t quite asleep).

    Ironically, he now believes in the tooth fairy more than ever since he actually FELT her putting the money there. Strange how that happened.

    We’ve continued the other “lies” because … well, we’re not sure why. Guess it’s just the way we were raised, so we did it. (He’s 7, so it’ll probably end soon).

    God, OTOH, we handle with the “lots of folks believe lots of different things” route, and that’s worked fairly well. He thinks reincarnation is the way to go as of now; we’ll see what happens as he gets older.

    (BTW, found this place via Wonkette. Will definitely return!)

  • Anonymous

    Note that lots of the more Fundamentalist Protestants are anti-Xmas, Easter, etc.,  too. They are Pagan in origin, supposedly.

  • “I’m a born atheist”
    everyone is a born atheist.  it’s only after indoctrination that people believe in god.

  • Momanddad


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