After Complaint About a Star, an Order to Remove Religious Symbols

Dec 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)
December 23, 2009

After Complaint About a Star, an Order to Remove Religious Symbols

By JESSE McKINLEY
The New York Times
Irv Sutley

Irv Sutley the offended Atheist

SAN FRANCISCO — It was the week before Christmas when Irv Sutley, a former warehouse worker, first saw the offending ornament in a government building in Sonoma County, just north of here.

“I was turning around in the lobby, and I noticed the tree,” Mr. Sutley said. “And then, I noticed the angel.”

Mr. Sutley, an atheist, said he then went to the office of the county Board of Supervisors. “And there was a star,” he said.

Technically, neither stars nor angels belong to any particular religion. But to the mind of Mr. Sutley, 65, a veteran who has fought to keep religion out of public meetings and buildings, the symbolism was clear.

“For most people, a star atop a tree at this time of season represents the star of Bethlehem, which is a cult symbol, the cult being Christianity,” he said, adding that the government should be neutral on religion.

The Offending Angel

The-offending-Angel and Star

Sonoma County officials conferred with their lawyers, and on Monday the acting county administrator, Chris Thomas, asked county departments to remove stars, angels or any other religious symbols “so that we can celebrate the season yet not appear to endorse Christian or other religious doctrines.”

Mr. Thomas cited a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Allegheny v. A.C.L.U., which stated that while Christmas trees could be seen as secular, they could also be seen as religious if decorated with religious symbols.

All of which pleased Mr. Sutley, who said he had found about a half-dozen stars on other trees around the building in Santa Rosa. He said he found none in the social services department, in which he found a religious placard during the holidays last year. (It, too, was removed.)

Mr. Sutley did not object to the trees themselves because, he said, they were not “overtly tied” to the “Judeo-Christian cult’s mythology.” He also made no complaints about the snowflake ornaments, glass bulbs and colorful lights.

Readers of The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which first reported the county’s decision on Monday, were mostly naughty, not nice, in their comments. “I hope,” one reader wrote, “a reindeer runs Irv Sutley over.”

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  1. CHRISTMAS IS CHRIST-stars or angels or no

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