Loudoun County Courthouse holiday decorations controversy rising again

Last year, a crucified skeleton in a Santa suit on the Loudoun County courthouse lawn highlighted the controversy over holiday decorations. Photo: Ken Reid

Controversy is rising again over holiday decorations at the Loudoun County Courthouse. And it's not even Christmas time yet.

Last year, anyone was allowed to put up a holiday display on the courthouse lawn, but that created a stir when a skeleton Santa showed up.

Now some county officials say they have a new plan, but will everyone agree?

There is a charm to downtown Leesburg that might seem to make holiday decorations a natural fit.

But in the past several years, Loudoun County's goal of the courthouse grounds becoming a shared place of holiday spirit hasn't exactly worked out as planned.

"Many of the displays were offensive to a large part of the public," says Ralph Buona, a county board member.

He's talking about, among other things, the so-called skeleton Santa placed on a cross outside the courthouse last year, which led to some less than flattering national media coverage.

It was tolerated because the board had allowed people to put up their own decorations, as long as they weren't obscene or explicit.

This year, Buona and other board members plan to take matters into their own hands and place a Christmas tree, nativity scene, Santa, and a Menorah on the lawn.

"By having a county-sponsored display and a ban on other displays we're hoping to put a little taste and civility in what goes on here at the courthouse," Buona says. "Fingers crossed, we won't get any litigation related to this."

Board member Shawn Williams believes groups like atheists could sue, and he'll vote against the display, which would cost $2,500-3,500.

He's not anti-holiday cheer, but thinks the board should instead spend its time on attracting business and building road.

"Why invite this type of distraction to the board with other pressing matters to deal with?" asks Williams.