Va. county officials reverse ban on holiday displays at courthouse

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

LEESBURG, Va. — The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has reversed an unpopular ban on public displays — including Christmas decorations — in front of the county courthouse.

A board-appointed citizens' committee had passed the ban last week. The committee said it was getting overwhelmed by requests for displays and wanted to protect the courthouse from damage.

The decision provoked an outcry from residents who want to continue to display a Nativity scene and Christmas tree there. Yesterday, supervisors voted 7 to 1 to allow community groups “equal access” to the grounds.

Supervisors who reversed the ban said it was a First Amendment issue.

“We are looking at an issue that came down to the core of some people's beliefs and traditions,” Supervisor Kelly Burk was quoted by The Washington Post as saying. “We want to make sure that all the requests are treated fairly under the law.”

Jim Burton, the only supervisor who voted to keep the ban, complained the board moved too hastily, without a full understanding of the legal issues.

The newspaper also reported today that Burton “said he feared that extremist groups would turn the century-old courthouse in downtown Leesburg into a ‘public circus.’”

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