Controversy is brewing -- again -- over holiday displays at the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Va., after an elected leader used the word "terrorists" to describe a group that's fighting a Christmas tradition.
Soon, the old Loudoun County courthouse lawn will be home to a Christmas tree, a nativity scene, a menorah and Santa Claus.
"And all of those displays are going to be equal," said Ken Reid, of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. “There’s not going to be one that’s dominant over the others.”
Barred will be decidedly less traditional displays from recent years, including signs put up by local atheists who maintain using the courthouse lawn for religious displays violates the Constitution's call for separation of church and state. The new rules were supposed to quiet the controversy over holiday displays outside the courthouse, but comments by County Supervisor Reid stirred the pot again. In the Washington Times, he likened the atheists to terrorists.
“None of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.”
Local Democratic leaders are outraged.
"We have to be very sensitive here in Leesburg to tossing around words like ‘terrorism’ when there are neighbors who have actually held themselves against the terrorists in the line of battle," Loudoun County Democratic Committee Chair Evan Macbeth said.
Reid apologized on News4 Tuesday night, then added, “But I still think they're fanatical.”
“It was certainly an inappropriate thing to say to compare conscientious citizens in Loudoun County, who are trying nothing else but to defend the Constitution, to compare us with the worst people on the planet,” said Rick Wingrove, of the Virginia chapter of American Atheists.
American Atheists plans to abide by the new rules barring unattended displays. They plan to man an information kiosk Dec. 8, after the county’s holiday display is placed at the courthouse.