Display Drama: Virginia Official Calls Nonbelievers ‘Terrorists’

The fact that only an atheist group has chosen to put up a display riled Ken Reid of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors like a lump of coal in his stocking.

Ken Reid of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors doesn’t think much of nonbelievers who stand up for church-state separation.

It’s strictly this group of terrorists,” he told the Washington Times. “They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.”

Reid’s harsh words came in response to a recent flap over holiday displays outside the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Va. Unless you’ve got a really good memory, you may not recall the mess that has unfolded there over the past few years.

In 2009, Loudoun’s Courthouse Grounds Facility Committee decided not to allow any displays outside the courthouse including a creche that was displayed there annually.

Creche fans didn’t like that idea much, so a few days later the decision was overturned and all sorts of displays were welcomed. It was an all-or-nothing approach, and that’s perfectly acceptable from a constitutional standpoint. Everyone has an equal chance to air his or her views.

But not everyone has relished this display-and-let-display policy. Last year, one exhibit – a skeleton dressed in a Santa Claus suit and hanging on a cross – vividly blasted the over-commercialization of Christmas.

That didn’t sit well with a Leesburg woman who was so upset that she disassembled the display and placed it on the ground. The work was later put back together, but was eventually vandalized again and a piece of it was stolen.

Rather than simply putting an end to this fiasco by banning all displays, the Loudoun supervisors decided that this year all displays put up by the public must be attended by the sponsors or other persons. (The board also approved a Christmas tree, Nativity scene, Santa and a menorah for the courthouse lawn.)

The Washington Times reported that so far, only one group has taken advantage of the new policy – American Atheists. The Times said that Rick Wingrove, the group’s Virginia director, will have a booth in December featuring banners with quotations from atheists like Albert Einstein and John Adams. It will also feature public readings of books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Wingrove received a permit for his display in November as well, the Times said, and has spent weekends manning his booth. He said there probably won’t be an attendant available every day in December, and so far, the display has been taken down each evening in November.

Wingrove protested the new policy mildly, telling the Times that fewer public displays will mean less attention for his group than in the past. In 2011, there were nine displays, the Times said.

“The board made it really onerous for everyone but religious groups to put up displays,” Wingrove said.

But Supervisor Reid said folks like Wingrove are terrorists, and “none of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing.”

Why would they? Anyone from the community has an equal opportunity to put up a display provided they take it down at the end of the day or attend it. That’s fair.

Wingrove’s display and his mild displeasure with the board’s policy don’t exactly qualify as terrorist activities, and just throwing around the word “terrorist” is pretty reckless at a time when there are actual terrorists at work.

The fact that only an atheist group has chosen to put up a display riled Reid like a lump of coal in his stocking. It’s likely he had hoped the new rules would lead to more participation from Christian groups, and when that didn’t happen, he got pretty bitter.

It’s a shame that some people can’t stand the idea of all viewpoints being represented in a public forum, but that’s just reality.