After years of Christmas displays being set up with nary a complaint on the courthouse grounds in Leesburg, VA, last year’s display came under attack by people who apparently can’t abide the thought of someone believing something they don’t strongly enough to want to display something for a nationally-known holiday. In short, some person demanded that the Christmas display be taken down and never return. To those people I’m going to refer this quote from noted philosopher Aristotle:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
How they can consider themselves both more cerebral and advanced than the people who support having a Christmas display – and, oh yes they do – while being apparently unable to remain intellectually intact at the mere sight of a display of other peoples’ religious faith at a time of one of their most revered religious holidays defies rational understanding. If they are that mentally weak, that morally porous, that a traditional holiday display will somehow wreck their worldview, then I would suggest they’re far too fragile to be let out of the house.
What applies to citizens in this country also applies to a government of the people 1. It is absolutely possible for a government to permit a display of something in the public space without endorsing it. The mere mention of a religion does not constitute an establishment of that religion. And, most certainly, neither does the refusal of a government to deny citizen speech of a religious nature constitute an establishment or an endorsement of that religion. There is no right to be insulated from any expression of a fellow citizen while going about in the public space.
The issue was brought up again with the Board of Supervisors and scheduled to be heard in their July meeting, held just this past Monday, July 19th. As with the previous matter of the CBPO, the public turnout was quite strong and, apparently, overwhelmingly against banning displays on the courthouse grounds. Once again (as with the CBPO), the Board voted to delay a decision on this matter until later – in this case until September. However, unlike the decision to kick the can down the road on the matter of the CBPO – which was done in order to give the Board more time to “educate” the public on the matter, since we’re clearly too stupid to understand things as demonstrated by our opposition – this decision was delayed in response to a specific request by Judge Thomas Horne, Chief of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court.
Judge Horne’s request to delay was based on the fact that he was going to be out of town on the night the vote was to take place (Tuesday, July 20). According to the report in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Horne’s request was for additional time to allow “all our judges to be given the opportunity to consider, should they wish to do so, the impact of the use of the grounds on the operation of their Courts.” So, let me get this straight: a matter of the governance of Loudoun County, one that clearly has great interest to the public, is being delayed because 1 man, a man not part of the County’s elected leadership nor a participant in the legislative process outside of being a fellow citizen, was going to be out of town? Is this a new precedent? That any time a matter comes before the Board that affects a given citizen who’s going to be out of town on the day the Board is to vote on the matter then the matter gets delayed until that guy comes back? And what about his being out of town precluded the other judges from “consider[ing]… the impact of the use of the grounds”? They can’t consider things without his presence?
Which brings me to the other part of Judge Horne’s request that has me bristling: he thinks the judges should be allowed to consider the impact of the use of the grounds on the operation of their Courts? Excuse me, sir, those ain’t “their” courts. They’re our courts. They have been granted the authority to use our courts to adjudicate matters of law and justice by we, the People, in our consent to be governed. No mistake should be made, however, that ownership of those courts – and most certainly of the surrounding terrain – is held firmly in the hands of the citizens, not the individual judges. Their concerns should absolutely be taken into account but that’s what public hearings are for. What, may I ask, kept those judges from coming to the public hearing on Monday and speaking out? I hope that appearances are deceiving in this case but it certainly appears that what kept them from doing so was the assumption of being owed preferential treatment on this matter.
I fail to see how the presence of a static display outside of the courthouse would affect the operation of a courtroom, particularly one secured and monitored by such a capable police force as Loudoun has deployed there in Leesburg.
In the end, the courthouse grounds are the public’s grounds. This is a matter for the public, through their elected representatives and leaders, to decide and that process involves public hearings, debate, and votes. That mechanism is as accessible to members of the judiciary as it is to network engineers and they have the same obligation to make use of it as it is presented, should they choose to do so. The Board, well intentioned as it might have been, made the wrong decision and set the wrong precedent. It’s done, however, and that’s that. I would hope that the Board is explicit that this request should not be viewed as permanent policy and the judges in Leesburg are now expected to be timely in any commentary they may choose to give. Clock’s ticking.