(I strongly recommend NOT OPENING the link that’s included below in the presence of any young children who may still be innocent enough to get a kick out of Santa. – Cranky Man)
A brouhaha erupted in Loudon County, Virginia this week over the content of a holiday display allowed to appear on the courthouse lawn. As has been happening all over the country for years, various groups protest the mixing of religion and government by targeting the long-standing practice of religious Christmas displays appearing on public lands.
The situation in Loudon County, how it developed; the way it was handled; and the end result, renders the issue interesting on several levels.
Loudon’s solution to the challenge to what should be displayed on the courthouse lawn was an attempt to please everyone by trying to avoid the only sensible decision. The Loudon County board decided instead to allow anyone who applied and received approval of their holiday display to show it on the courthouse lawn. (Only 9 display spots were available.)
As a result displays designed by atheist groups, artists and everyday citizens were included along with a traditional nativity scene and Christmas tree. The result – I would think - they should have seen coming from a mile away. This year the displays included one by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, two that promoted atheism and even one celebrating The Constitution. Last year, there was even a vulgar version of the Twelve days of Christmas.
But the one that caused the big stink this year was Santa on a cross (Please check over your shoulder for little Cindy Lou Who before you click!), featuring a skeleton dressed as Santa Claus hung on a cross. The display – intended to comment on the over-commercialization of Christmas - was promptly vandalized by a woman in the middle of the afternoon in front of news cameras that had come out to report on the controversy.
What was mind-blowing to me was the reaction of County officials who were shocked when the Santa on a cross display appeared. Yet the display had been fully explained and described when the application was submitted for approval!
Who’s been reviewing these applications?!? The Grinch?
In any case, I believe the situation and the way it was handled should be provided as case study material for municipal leaders everywhere as the way NOT to handle such situations.
It is regrettable that Christmas traditions our generation – and those before it - enjoyed every December are being pushed off the public square due to Political Correctness and the resulting legal appeasals. But this country is not the same – in cultural demographics and level of diversity – as it was 40-50 years ago, when we were kids and our parents continued the traditions of their generation. Whether you view that as a good thing or a not-so-good thing, you can’t argue with the fact that it’s simply different now.
My own personal view is that trying to walk that fine line between religion and government only gets more and more perilous the farther you try to toe it, as the Loudon County example illustrates.
As a born and bred Christian, who admittedly struggles with the concept of Church, I enjoy the meaning, the fellowship and all the trappings of a Christian Christmas. And though I appreciate the often misunderstood concept of God as integral to the founding principles of this country, I accept the reality that the judicial concept of separation of church and state (found neither in The Constitution or the Bill of Rights) renders the public display of religious symbols on publicly-owned lands an unwinnable position from which to preserve certain Christmas traditions. That might be a source of constant irritation at this time of year; but there is no chance of ever going back to those “good old days”.
What would have been the better solution for Loudon? To allow everyone to speak their mind on whatever level they relate – or react – to Christmas … all the good, the bad, the preposterous, the blasphemous? Or would the better solution have been to simply not allow any displays on the courthouse lawn aside from the safe and innocuous “Happy Holidays” sign, as offensive as that might be to their Christian sensibilities?
I would have bitten the bullet and opted for the latter in the belief that it would be better to keep what’s precious at this time of the year safe from the disenchanted, the uber politically-correct, and the wackos. If Christmas and all those images and icons we associate with it face the risk of corruption and defilement in the public square just because it’s “public”, is it really worth leaving it in the square?
There are more than enough privately-controlled spaces for us to display our Christian Christmas spirit, on church and private property where we have singular control over what we believe is important to honor with displays. There’s no need for us to expose our beliefs to what amounts to government-approved public comment and – at times - ridicule all for the sake of making a point.
Some of the other possibilities are subject for some interesting discussions.
- Interesting that it would have been “scandalous” to place a cross of any kind on public property, yet it was approved for the crucifixion of Santa Claus.
- If you cherish the right to free speech, would you be able to stomach the kind of messages that might result from a decision to allow everyone the opportunity to express their Christmas views no matter how offensive or provocative?
- Was the woman who ripped down the Santa on a cross display a hero, a censor or a criminal? Was she simply exercising HER right to express herself?
- What would happen if someone wanted to display a scene disparaging or criticizing the beliefs or concepts of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, Eid Al-Fitr?
- How far do you think local officials should go to preserve public displays of Christmas themes?
- For a comparison, read how Henderson County, Texas is fighting back.