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Austin Cline

Loudon County: Atheist Displays Will Outnumber Christian Displays

By December 9, 2011

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In Virginia, Loudon County wanted to have a religious Christmas display that didn't violate the law. The best way to do this is to open up the courthouse lawn to multiple displays -- that way private citizens erecting a religious display aren't being favored. So that's what they did: 10 displays would be permitted on a first come, first served basis. What they didn't expect is that non-Christian displays would outnumber the Christian ones.

Of the 10, only two would be religious Christian displays -- and one of those won't appear because of safety concerns with the tenth spot!

The 10 applications that have been submitted and accepted for display are as follows, in chronological order as received:
  • A crèche, or nativity scene, from Leesburg resident Dennis Welsh.
  • 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 displaying a letter from Jesus, submitted by Middleburg resident Jenelle Embrey.
  • A piece of art work depicting Santa on a cross to "depict 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," submitted by Middleburg resident Jeff Heflin Jr.
  • 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.
  • A nativity scene, submitted by the Rev. Jack Grubbs from the Potomac Falls Anglican Church.
Source: Lessburg2Day

Some of the applications were made last December as people tried to ensure that they would get a spot. That was probably a wise idea because a lot of Christians are upset that when it comes to a fair competition, their own beliefs aren't able to completely dominate the public sphere. The whining in Loudon County is almost deafening, which tells us a lot about why some Christians are so anxious to have rigged systems that favor their religion and their beliefs -- it's the only way they have a chance.

Loudon County residents are trying to come up with all sorts of excuses for why only the "right" sorts of Christians should be allowed to have public displays. Some insist that only Christians should be allowed to have displays at Christmas because it's "their" holiday. Some say that only "legitimate" religions should be allowed to have displays (what, free speech exists only for religious groups?). Some say that displays should be limited to groups with a minimum percentage of members from the population (so free speech is a right of groups that are large enough, not of individuals?).

This is what happens when Christianity is denied special privileges, special support, special advantages, or an ability to cheat: Christians lose the ability to completely dominate the public sphere or public conversations and other viewpoints are given equal time. This infuriates many conservative evangelicals and it's one reason why so many are opposed to basic civil liberties and democracy.

Comments
December 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm
(1) Karen says:

I have a bad feeling about the way this turned out; it might well create a greater rift locally between the atheists and the Christians, pitting neighbors against each other — never mind the “Season of Peace and Goodwill” nonsense.

But then part of me wants to just roll on the floor laughing with joy that the atheists were better prepared to sign up for the display than their Christian counterparts.

December 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

I have a bad feeling about the way this turned out; it might well create a greater rift locally between the atheists and the Christians

…which would never exist otherwise?

December 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm
(3) Dean Smith says:

Prediction: they will ultimately decide it’s better not to allow government property to be used for religious displays at all.

December 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm
(4) Karen says:

Oh, animosity would still exist, but it might not be so open.

Continuing to think about it, though, I suspect this is a good thing in the long run. It’s important to get across to religious people, any way we can possibly convey the message, that they don’t have exclusive rights that should be denied to the rest of us.

December 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm
(5) tracieh says:

Best Christmas story this year. It’s like they never learn. They know that the choice is “no religious displays” or equal access–but they just won’t go with secular symbols of the season and leave it with that. Put up a snowman, some reindeer, a tree with colored balls…and leave it at that. Nope, they have to have Jesus there, and this is what they get. It’s certainly not the first time this has happened (although _mainly_ non-Christian displays is a surprise). Now we just sit and wait for the non-Christian displays to be vandalized. Those will be the next stories, shortly after these displays are put up.

December 9, 2011 at 9:45 pm
(6) Lynne says:

A note to my fellow nonbelievers: Grow up.

I’m a nontheist who loves Christmas–gaudiness and all. I don’t take the religious side of the holiday seriously. I simply like the good feelings, no matter how fleeting, this season promotes. Hell, Christmas is fun!

So here’s where I get upset.

The Christians posted their signs out of love for their religion.

Nonbelievers posted their signs out of spite.

I see no reason for nontheists to react in such a disrespectful manner. So what if Christians want to post signs? It has nothing to do with us! Religious sentiments are NOT inherently anti-atheist.

The above story made me shake my head. More malevolent narcissism from nontheists.

December 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm
(7) Austin Cline says:

A note to my fellow nonbelievers: Grow up.

Supporting the separation of church and state is childish? I dare you to defend that position.

Nonbelievers posted their signs out of spite.

Every one of them? And how is it that you know all of them so well that you know all of their motives?

Wait, let me guess: you don’t know any of them. You’re just making assumptions based on almost zero information.

Tell me how this is a demonstration of how a “grown-up” behaves?

I see no reason for nontheists to react in such a disrespectful manner.

So, you think that religion deserves automatic respect? I’m quite positive you can’t support this position, either.

So what if Christians want to post signs? It has nothing to do with us! Religious sentiments are NOT inherently anti-atheist.

Doesn’t matter. It’s a question of church/state separation – which you’d know if you read the article.

The above story made me shake my head. More malevolent narcissism from nontheists.

As opposed to your own contribution, which demonstrates monumental arrogance in your assumptions about others coupled with zero displayed knowledge of the situation.

You may be an atheist, but you’re only an atheist who serves to demonstrate that atheism doesn’t mean a person is rational or sensible.

December 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm
(8) Andy Anderson says:

“I have a bad feeling about the way this turned out; it might well create a greater rift locally between the atheists and the Christians”

Christians believe that their god will torture us FOREVER after we die unless we telepathically tell Jesus that we love it and accept it saving us from itself.

Atheists don’t buy the above.

Which group is causing the rift?

December 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm
(9) Lynne says:

Austin,

First of all, back off with your intellectual dishonesty. This is NOT about the separation of church and state, and you probably know that.

This is about the lack of tolerance militant atheists feel they must demonstrate living in a pluralistic society. (If, as an atheist, you feel so oppressed and misunderstood, then move to Europe where atheism is more respected.)

Another thing. I don’t know these particular people who posted these signs, but I live in their area. I know the organizations they represent. I even thought of joining one, but found the members too bitter and angry. For example, I wanted to engage in meaningful dialogue with some religious groups. But screw that. Religious people were the enemy.

Austin, your own “monumental arrogance” represents a real problem within the atheist community. What do we want? Do we want more acceptance in this country where religion reigns supreme? Or do we want to be the embittered losers who’d rather sit on the sidelines and complain while feeling smug and superior?

I belong to humanity, a collective swimming with theists. Like it or not, so do you. Learn to “play nice” with others who may simply disagree.

December 10, 2011 at 7:06 am
(10) Austin Cline says:

First of all, back off with your intellectual dishonesty.

That’s a pretty serious accusation. Can you back it up?

This is NOT about the separation of church and state, and you probably know that.

No, that’s precisely the legal issue behind this story.

This is about the lack of tolerance militant atheists

1. What is “militant” about putting up a sign?

2. What is “intolerant” about putting up a sign?

Another thing. I don’t know these particular people who posted these signs, but I live in their area. I know the organizations they represent.

So you don’t know any of them, but you know that they all represent the same organization? And you know all their motives? You’re not even trying to be credible here.

Austin, your own “monumental arrogance” represents a real problem within the atheist community.

That’s also a pretty serious accusation. Can you back it up?

What do we want?

Different things – there is no single “we” describing all atheists.

I belong to humanity

So do we all. Some of us, though, are humans who care about church/state separation and don’t feel the need to make baseless, anonymous accusations about others.

December 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm
(11) nondescript says:

Lynne, which of the atheist displays do you feel were put there out of spite? BTW, the Santa on a cross display was put there by a Christian.

December 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm
(12) Matt says:

I just returned from the Loudon County courthouse.

The creche is up, but not in the original location it was assigned. The original spot was removed because of safety concerns for the tree at that location. However, one of the Flying Spaghetti Monster signs will not be put up, so all of the spots were shifted to accommodate the creche.

The Letter from Jesus is down, and the Crucified Santa is only partially up. Both were vandalized over the past week. Once while both a police officer and a local news reporter were watching. The news reporter actually interviewed the vandal while she was destroying the display.

Both the Letter from Jesus and the Crucified Santa were put up by Christians, not atheists. While the atheists supported their right to put their displays, they are not atheist displays.

The Tree of Knowledge is up as is the Celebrating our Constitution sign. The Reason in the Holiday Season sign is partially up, but not in its spot or fully put together yet. It should be soon.

The Myths for Young and Old sign is not up. I’ve heard a rumor it will not go up this year, but I haven’t confirmed anything with Emmert.

My sign, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was supposed to go up today, but it’s still at the printers and won’t be ready until next weekend.

December 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm
(13) Lynne says:

Nondescript:

Loudon County wanted to erect religious displays. RELIGIOUS. Any atheist who insists on erecting some display that disagrees with religion is doing so out of spite. I cannot see any other reason. OK, ok, maybe as a form of protest if “spite” is too strong a word.

Now. I realize the problem in the county’s thinking. A government body erecting religious displays is indeed unsettling. So that leads to my second point–

Austin:

My concern about the separation of church and state pertains more to the real world implications regarding civil law vs. religion and the complicated relationship between such major institutions. Merely banishing religious symbolism from the public arena seems trite. (Seriously. It pains atheists to see a crucifix? What are we? Vampires?)

For example, I care about abortion and reproductive rights, not stupid displays. I find it deeply troubling that some sanctimonious pharmacist with something to prove could deny a woman birth control pills. Self-righteous idiocy from such people drives me to respond, not some plastic baby in a manger on a public library’s lawn.

And no. I’ll say it again. I don’t know who these atheists with the signs are personally. I know their organizations (three of which were NAMED in the article) and some members. I deduced the motivations of the respondents via their CHOSEN affiliations.

I did not say anything egregious about the character of these individuals. This is more than I can say for you, Austin, who implied I lacked rationality and sense. Thanks for the ad hominem attack.

Oh, I can’t resist. You, Austin, prove that religious fundamentalists are not the only purveyors of overly emotional responses to disagreements.

December 11, 2011 at 8:13 am
(14) Austin Cline says:

Loudon County wanted to erect religious displays. RELIGIOUS.

And it’s a violation of church/state separation to prefer religious displays. Ergo, this is a church/state separation issue. Thank you for demonstrating so clearly that your assertion was false.

Any atheist who insists on erecting some display that disagrees with religion is doing so out of spite.

Prove it.

I cannot see any other reason.

So, the best you have is an argument from personal ignorance. Who, exactly, do you think will find that credible? How is it that even you find that credible?

OK, ok, maybe as a form of protest if “spite” is too strong a word.

Those are completely different concepts; one is not a “stronger” form of the other. Do you not comprehend “spite,” “protest,” both, or what?

Now. I realize the problem in the county’s thinking. A government body erecting religious displays is indeed unsettling.

No, it’s illegal – if all they erect is religious displays. That’s why this is a church/state separation issue.

Merely banishing religious symbolism from the public arena seems trite.

Fortunately, no one has made that recommendation or argument. Do you really understand church/state case law at all?

And no. I’ll say it again. I don’t know who these atheists with the signs are personally.

So your assertion about their motives is based upon zero first-hand knowledge of them, their lives, or their intentions. You’re just making assumptions that are founded in self-admitted ignorance.

I did not say anything egregious about the character of these individuals.

Right, describing their behavior as “malevolent narcissism” says nothing at all “egregious” about their character.

Do you ever listen to yourself, or do you just spout off randomly?

You, Austin, prove that religious fundamentalists are not the only purveyors of overly emotional responses to disagreements.

There you go, making assumptions about others. Nothing I’ve written here has been imbued with emotion, much less an excess of emotion. Your “contributions” here have not been important enough to get emotional over. I’ve been dismissive, not emotional, and I’ve been dismissive because you haven’t offered anything the merits taking seriously.

Let’s take a look at an abbreviated list of all the things you’ve asserted without even trying to support:

- “Nonbelievers posted their signs out of spite.”
- Posting the signs is “malevolent narcissism from nontheists.”
- I have been “intellectual dishonest”
- “This is NOT about the separation of church and state”
- Posting the signs is “militant”
- Posting the signs is an expression of “intolerance”
- My own personal “”monumental arrogance” represents a real problem within the atheist community.”
- Governments erecting only religious signs is merely “unsettling” rather than illegal

Do I really need to continue?

Come back with some substantive support for your various claims and accusations and maybe you’ll earn being taken seriously. Come back with substantive support for your accusations and maybe you’ll demonstrate that you’re ready for serious, adult conversations on the issues.

December 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm
(15) Lynne says:

Sorry to get back to you so late, Austin, but I’d forgotten about your little blog.

I do understand that posting a religious sign on government land is illegal.Yes, that is why such an action violates the separation of church and state. I simply questioned the actual motivations of the respondents, which could have had little to do with an issue you seem to be frothing at the mouth over.

The rest of your rant? I don’t really care that much. I’m sorry.

Merry Christmas, Austin. If you have any good eggnog recipes, post them in the Home Cooking section of About.com!

December 13, 2011 at 5:45 am
(16) Austin Cline says:

Sorry to get back to you so late, Austin, but I’d forgotten about your little blog.

I do understand that posting a religious sign on government land is illegal.Yes, that is why such an action violates the separation of church and state.

So, you “understand” that what you claimed was false. But you don’t “understand” enough to admit to being in error and retracting your claims. Your ethical immaturity is astounding.

I simply questioned the actual motivations of the respondents

No, you didn’t – that’s a lie. You didn’t “question” anything, you specifically accused the people of being militant, intolerant, of “malevolent narcissism,” and of spite. That’s not “questioning” by a long shot and no one will believe your pathetic attempts to rewrite your own record.

which could have had little to do with an issue you seem to be frothing at the mouth over.

So, you first try to gloss over the error of your orignal assertion, then you rewrite your accusations about others, and you top it all off with a person attack on the person who had the gall to reveal all the flaws in what you wrote.

Perfect. Your circle of pathos is complete.

The rest of your rant? I don’t really care that much. I’m sorry.

Or, more likely, you recognize your complete inability to respond substantively but just don’t have the maturity to admit error.

December 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm
(17) DC resident says:

Personally, I would like to see a Hindu Diwali display on the courthouse lawn. Why wasn’t there one back in October? Oh, wait a minute, government isn’t supposed to get involved in religion and religion has no place in government. Makes sense. Why don’t we just keep it that way?

Brings back fond memories of my school days back in the fifties when I was berated by the teacher in front of the whole class for not being able to recite some psalm or other from memory when told to read from the bible one day, only to find the page was missing. I’m sure the teacher knew that beforehand. My father, an atheist, made sure everybody was aware of that fact. You can imagine how that went over with people in the 50′s. Not exactly the most popular kid in school.

December 17, 2011 at 12:17 am
(18) Tim Lister says:

Lynne, you can pick and choose which fundamental human rights guaranteed by our Constitution you want to defend out of misplaced respect for the very people who are trying to violate those rights if you want. I choose instead to be consistent in my defense of those principles. Staying quiet on an issue because you don’t think it’s important enough to you personally just leads to further trampling of our rights and makes you look like a hypocrite when you speak out on other issues. Castigating those atheists who are trying to defend our rights is even worse, and you’re doing yourself no favors either. Your talk of a dialogue with religious groups is naive. Theists will never truly respect you or any other atheist no matter what we say or do unless we become theists; just ask Steve Harvey or Pat Robertson. I’m not sure what you’re trying to achieve by rolling over on “lesser” issues but history has shown that such attitudes are dangerous. Maybe you haven’t experienced any discrimination because of your atheism, but we don’t all live in the suburbs of DC. In my hometown most theists automatically equate atheists (no matter how nice or accommodating we are) with pedophiles and axe murderers. They think we have no moral compass therefore we are incapable of understanding right versus wrong. Why should anyone respect such a bigoted and irrational viewpoint? The atheist groups standing up to religious privilege in Loudoun County are sending a clear message that atheists have the same freedoms as theists, and they can’t be silenced just because it makes theists a little uncomfortable during their hijacked holidays.

December 17, 2011 at 6:38 am
(19) Loren says:

Lynne? Austin? Here’s some eggnog. Drink up.

Delicious? Yes, it is. Here. Have some more.

Now…here’s the mistletoe.

Merry Christmas, Bah Humbug, Seasons Greedings.

December 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm
(20) Joan says:

I love His Noodliness, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I can see that some theists might not like that parody and might consider it “spiteful” as Lynne said. I certainly think a Winter Solstice theme and sign would be appropriate. We had a similar situation here where I live. As soon as the powers that be gave “permission” for equal time, if you will, and someone erected a Flying Spaghetti Monster, the county commission decided to stop allowing courthouse displays altogether. I guess a lot of it depends upon the presentation, but I think all signs and displays should at least express civility and good will.

December 18, 2011 at 7:01 am
(21) C Woods says:

Every private home in this country has the right to put up a religious display —or a dozen of them— unless they would violate zoning laws because of their size or disruptive nature.

Every private business may display a religious message. Every place of worship may do so. That would mean that there could be religious displays of one type or other on about 90% of the properties in this country (a guess base on the Gallup 2011 study that 92% of people in the U.S. believe in God or a spiritual being.)

The fact that religious individuals and groups still insist on placing religious displays on public property makes me think it is the religious people who want to disrespect those who do not believe as they do. They are the ones who are arrogant.

I don’t think most individuals or groups who are placing non-religious displays are doing it out of spite. I would think that they would be glad NOT to place their displays on public property, but will do so until the religious (mostly Christians) get it —IT being that if religious individuals/groups are given the right, then others must have an equal right.

December 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm
(22) OZAtheist says:

It is quite clear that Christians are losing the race to have Jesus recognized as the “reason for the season” Santa Claus is way out in front.

Our modern day Santa is the product of skilful manipulation and standardization of his image. Thanks to the efforts of the Coca Cola Company and Haddon Sundblom 80 plus years ago everybody knows what Santa looks like now. Before that time images of Saint Nick varied enormously.

Maybe the Christians can learn from this and get there marketing act together. The many paintings of Jesus are markedly different.

December 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm
(23) psyche says:

As an agnostic who has many relatives, friends and acquaintances who are Christian, I think this is phenomenally mean-spirited and ignorant. None of your behaviors have anything to do with making the world a better place. You’ve all got your hooked noses out of joint, and you’ve only taken this to the level of targeting Christians (specifically) with harassment. You objectify the Christian masses–and you seem obsessed with them. I would never mistreat my family and friends with the hatred you do to people you don’t even know–and maybe that should be your guide in how you treat strangers.

December 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm
(24) Austin Cline says:

As an agnostic who has many relatives, friends and acquaintances who are Christian, I think this is phenomenally mean-spirited and ignorant.

So, it’s “mean-spirited and ignorant” for atheists to enjoy the same rights as Christians?

None of your behaviors have anything to do with making the world a better place.

So, it doesn’t make the world a better place when everyone enjoys the same rights and expresses themselves?

You’ve all got your hooked noses out of joint, and you’ve only taken this to the level of targeting Christians (specifically) with harassment.

So, it is “harassment” against Christians when non-Christians use public spaces?

You objectify the Christian masses-and you seem obsessed with them.

So, it “objectifies” Christians when non-Christians enjoy their First Amendment rights?

I would never mistreat my family and friends with the hatred you do to people you don’t even know-

So, it’s “hatred” when non-Christians have the gall to express their views publicly?

and maybe that should be your guide in how you treat strangers.

And what was your guide in how you treated strangers here – making nonsensical, ridiculous, and false claims? You may be an agnostic, but all you achieve is to demonstrate is that being an agnostic doesn’t mean that a person necessarily expreses themselves in a coherent or rational manner.

If you had a serious, substantive, legal argument against what non-Christians are doing in Loudon, you’d have raised them. You didn’t, so you don’t. All you have are vague, unsubstantiated accusations that no one can or should take seriously. So why even bother?

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