One of my first (and successful) ventures into secular activism was in December of 2009 when I had filed a complaint concerning a nativity scene — prominently displayed on a corner with floodlights and no other holiday displays — at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Northeastern Pennsylvania [read more here]. The display was taken down and later placed alongside other holiday displays forming an inclusive display. In 2010, the inclusive display returned.
2011 and 2012 saw no religious displays whatsoever — as far as I know — on courthouse property. According to a recent article in The Citizen’s Voice, construction at the courthouse and damage to the displays have resulted in a ‘holiday no-show.’ The county’s engineer, though, alludes to the possibly of religious displays — alongside secular displays — returning to the courthouse in 2013 if the construction schedule allows and perhaps if donations are received.
The article states,
Christmas and holiday decorations may return to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn in December 2013, county Engineer Joe Gibbons said.
The lawn decorations were not on display this year and last year because of exterior construction work on the courthouse. Some lawn decorations were also damaged while being stored during the September 2011 flood.
“We may consider assembling a display next holiday season if the construction schedule allows,” Gibbons said. “We may also seek donations for repairs to the flood-damaged decorations.”
Why bother? What is the motivation for the county government to not only to place the decorations — many of them religious in nature — but to want to solicit donations for decorations to be placed on the courthouse lawn? Does Luzerne County really want to continue to blur the lines between separation of church and state and risk a lawsuit…especially considering they have been Establishment Clause violators in the past?
The best way for governments to deal with these issues of holiday decorations, I think, is to vow neutrality and not participate in these matters to begin with. Instead allocate your governmental resources to work on problems such as unemployment, crime, education, etc. Plenty of churches, private lawns, and other institutions will likely be more than happy to have holiday displays.