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A Virginia county courthouse is once again at the center of Christmas controversy after an elected official called members of a local atheist group "terrorists."
Ken Reid, a supervisor representing the Leesburg district, was not happy after local atheist leader Rick Wingrove criticized Loudoun County-sponsored holiday displays planned for the Leesburg courthouse lawn, The Washington Times reports.
“None of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing,” Reid told newspaper in a story published Monday. “It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.”
Tensions about separation of church and state during the holidays have been high in Leesburg for several years, with the lawn of the courthouse at the center of the battle.
Last year, for example, officials allowed nine holiday displays outside Loudoun County Courthouse, including a very controversial skeleton Santa Claus hanging from a cross, a painting paying tribute to the birth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a traditional Nativity scene, The Times reports. Several of the displays were vandalized.
This year, in an effort to cut down on the discord, the Board of Supervisors did away with the all-comers approach, banning unattended displays, according to NBC4. Instead, the Board approved its own selection of displays: a Christmas tree, nativity scene, Santa and a Menorah.
Undeterred by the Board's ruling, however, Wingrove and the American Atheists announced plans for an attended display on the courthouse grounds, the Washington Post notes.
“The board made it really onerous for everyone but religious groups to put up displays,” Wingrove told the Times. “We will not have the exposure as in the past.”
Furthermore, Wingrove told NBC 4 that the Board of Supervisors was in essence giving "special access for Christian groups," while preventing other groups from having the privilege.
It was comments like those that provoked the outburst from Reid.
"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 told NBC4.
On Tuesday, Reid apologized but added, “I still think they're fanatical.”
According to the Washington Post, the debate over holiday displays in Leesburg has "deepened" since 2009. Wingrove recently told the paper that "if religion is okay on government property, science certainly is."
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