A Virginia official referred to a group of atheists as ‘terrorists’ after one of the group’s members criticized a local courthouse for putting up religious holiday decorations.
Ken Reid, a supervisor who represents Virginia’s Leesburg District, was angered by the atheists’ reaction to the Christmas decorations on the lawn of the Leesburg courthouse, the Washington Times reports.
Over the years, the courthouse decorated its facility by hanging a Skeleton Santa Claus from a cross and featuring paintings that show the manger birth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well as the traditional birth of Jesus. The lawn this year also contained a Christmas tree and a menorah. Such decorations have been displayed at the courthouse every year since 2009, when the Loudon County Board of Supervisors lifted a ban on courthouse holiday displays, allowing any religious group to contribute decorations.
But this year, the board banned unattended displays by outside groups and instead put up its own decorations. This winter the American Atheists also planned to contribute attended displays, but AA leader Rick Wingrove believes his group was denied the same amount of access to the grounds.
“The board made it really onerous for everyone but religious groups to put up displays. We will not have the exposure as in the past,” he told the Times.
Wingrove also told NBC4 that the Board of Supervisors seemed to favor Christian groups and made it more difficult for other groups to access the lawn.
Angered by the perceived bias against them, the atheist group emphasized the importance of separating church and state. The atheist reaction triggered a hostile response from Reid, who is now under scrutiny for calling them “fanatic terrorists.”
“None of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing,” he told the Times. “It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.”
Reid also accused the Atheists of destroying holidays.
“[This is] another example of putting fingers in the eyes of shoppers and businesses and trying to make a mockery of Christmas holidays – that’s what they’re really about. They’re hell bent on trying to destroy people’s holidays,” he said.
Reid’s offensive remarks were quickly condemned by other Loudon County officials, prompting an apology from the Leesburg supervisor.
“We have to be very sensitive here in Leesburg to tossing around works like ‘terrorism’ when there are neighbors who have actually held themselves against the terrorists in the line of battle,” Loudon County Democratic Committee Chair Evan Macbeth told NBC4.
Reid apologized for his statement on Tuesday, but stood by his initial remark that the atheists are “fanatical.”