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Free speech row over Santa-suited crucified skeleton put up as Christmas display

By Rachel Quigley

6th December 2011

Mail Online

Locals weren't sure if it was Halloween, Easter or Christmas when they saw a 'festive' display in front of their courthouse this week.

A crucified skeleton in a Santa costume was placed in front of the Leesburg, Virginia, courthouse on Monday - though it wasn't there for long - as a few hours later someone had already knocked it to the ground.

Another display - a letter addressed to Christians, signed Jesus,  allegedly placed there by an atheist - was put in front instead.

Macabre display: Rather than a commercial for the Nightmare Before Christmas movie, someone placed the Santa-suited skeleton as a message

Macabre display: Rather than a commercial for the Nightmare Before Christmas movie, someone placed the Santa-suited skeleton as a message

Man down: A few hours after it was put up, someone tore the 'Santa' down and put up a letter which was signed by Jesus

Man down: A few hours after it was put up, someone tore the 'Santa' down and put up a letter which was signed by Jesus

Resident Brooke Rogers told WJLA: 'I'm thrilled it got knocked down. I hope no children saw it while it was up. I think it’s really disturbing.'

Christmas has always been a contentious time in Loudoun County after the constitutionality of the annual Nativity scene was questioned and the board of supervisors considered banning all displays.

But after public outcry they decided to issue a number of permits each year for displays which are religious or otherwise.

The woman responsible for putting up the Santa skeleton - who is associated with an atheist group - is said to have taken it down while people were in the public meeting about the decorations. 

Opinion was divided over the macabre display.

Rick Wingrove, Virginia director of American Atheists, said: 'You don’t say free speech and then tear down someone else's display.'

Jonathan Weintraub, of the group NOVA Atheists told msnbc: 'The message to me at least, is that the meaning of Christmas, which is about faith and family, is dead and has been replaced by commercialism.'

Destroyed: Opinions over the skeleton display were divided and many thought that tearing it down violated free speech

Destroyed: Opinions over the skeleton display were divided and many thought that tearing it down violated free speech

Unpopular: At the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday night, the display was branded 'provocative' and 'obscene'

Unpopular: At the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday night, the display was branded 'provocative' and 'obscene'

Leesburg council member Ken Reid spoke out strongly against the skeletal display saying: 'I think that it's just extremely, extremely sad that somebody in this county who would try to basically debase Christmas like this. This really crossed the line.'

Anyone going to see the Santa-suited skeleton on Monday were met with just a pile of bones in a red suit on the ground. Even this was taken away  hours later.

At the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday night, the display was branded 'provocative' and 'obscene'.

According to board sources, it was put up by Middleburg resident Jeff Heflin Jr, who described it in his application as 'art work of Santa on a cross to depict society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season'.


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