War on Christmas – in July

There’s a war on Christmas, as Toby Keith told Stephen Colbert. And Loudoun County is the latest battleground.

Leesburg Today reports that the county Courthouse Ground and Facilities Committee has urged county officials to reinstate the prohibition on displays on the lawn of the Leesburg courts complex. That policy, created by the facilities committee last November, was reversed by the Board of Supervisors just before Christmas, leading to the erection of several holiday displays.

Ben Lawrence, the head of the facilities committee, told the Board, “We will not be a party to nor will we ask the Board of Supervisors to be a party to religious displays on our lawn. It is not that we are anti-anything, it's just that it's reasonable and understanding that this problem is getting out of hand.”

The policy as it stands allows 10 display areas on the courthouse grounds. Last year saw a cornucopia of creeds and critics, with a Christmas tree, a crèche, a Menorah, an Islamic crescent, a Sikh display, and a sign posted by the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation.

So far, supervisors say they are open to discussing a change in the policy, but nothing has been resolved, and the conflict is likely to continue.

The annual dispute over what religious displays are and are not appropriate in public places is becoming as much a part of the holiday season as eggnog and ugly sweaters. The U.S. is one-half Protestant, one-quarter Roman Catholic, 2 percent Jewish, 2 percent Mormon, and about 1 percent each Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim. Anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of Americans are atheists, depending on the survey.

These demographics will continue to shift as migration, marriage and birth patterns change, and as it becomes increasingly acceptable to seek out religious paths different from those of one’s ancestors. It’s a kosher version of the Great American Melting Pot.

As Americans express more religions, and in some cases none at all, the societal debate over where and how to express faith will get louder. Christmas – both a religious holiday and a secular, commercial one that is celebrated even by some non-Christians – is at the core of that debate. Is that lit-up tree a religious symbol, or a cultural one? Is the nativity in the park an indicator of creed, or of heritage?

While the spat can get unpleasant, it is probably a healthy thing. It keeps the best elements of America – free speech, freedom of expression and religion, diversity – alive and energized.

But do we have to have this fight in July? After all, World War I soldiers had a Christmas Truce. Can’t we call off the war on Christmas at least until the stockings are hung?

Fan, Follow and Text: Get the latest from NBCWashington.com anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Sign up for our e-mail newsletters and get breaking news delivered right to your mobile phone -- just text DCBREAKING to 622339 to sign up. (Message and data rates may apply.)

Contact Us