County Takes Control of Public Forum for Religious Displays

Originally posted at Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Ed Brayton writes on the recent decision by the county of Chester to take control of what is displayed on county-courthouse grounds in an effort to prevent non-religious displays from being erected.

The commission of Chester County, Pennsylvania has voted to take control over what has until now been an open forum for community groups to place their own holiday displays on county courthouse grounds. From now on, the commission will decide what kind of holiday displays to put up — and of course, they will exclude anything that is non-religious, which was the whole point of taking control.

They’re upset because the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has for the past few years put up a display called the Tree of Knowledge that promotes science and reason along with Christian and Jewish displays. Here’s what the new policy says:

The resolution adopted calls for the county to “erect and maintain its own seasonal holiday displays to celebrate the traditions of the holidays” to support the troops, celebrate peace, and promote commerce. The displays, it stated, would conform to “constitutionally permitted … applicable law.”

The commission has yet to approve any display, but this is quite predictable. They will have a manger scene and other religious symbols along with some reindeer, Santa, candy canes and the like, and perhaps a menorah. That will bring it into compliance with the Supreme Court’s bizarre and convoluted jurisprudence on such displays. And most importantly, it won’t include anything from those evil heathens who actually thought they had equal rights.

“Free speech is the issue here,” said Carol Roper of West Chester, a member of the Freethought Society. “This is about you deciding whether atheists are people, too or whether you can silence us.” …Downey and Roper suggested that the county would now be able to promote Christian and Jewish displays, but to ignore the “non-theist” display of its “Tree of Knowledge,” which had been erected at the courthouse for the past three years, by substituting holiday decorations for their informational presentation.

Farrell’s resolution was “a ruse” to eliminate speech the commissioners do not like, Roper said.

“The good Christian group is determined to ride us out of town on a rail,” she declared.


Yep. They shut down a public forum that allowed all groups to express their views so they could make sure one of those groups could no longer do so. And they succeeded. I’d like to see a suit filed here.



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