Sonoma County Recinds Ban on Christmas Tree Decorations
SANTA ROSA, Calif. Sonoma County's top official has rescinded a ban on stars and angels on Christmas trees in county buildings. Although it seems moot at this point since most county offices are closed now for the holidays until Jan. 4.
Wednesday morning, acting County Administrator, Chris Thomas rescinded his directive after consulting with Shirlee Zane, a County Supervisor who took issue with the removal of the decorations. In his reversal, Mr. Thomas told department heads to "use their best judgment" on the divisive holiday decoration quandary that has made international news.
Zane told Thomas removing the stars and angels was "potentially a violation of the freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion." Zane said she initially supported Thomas' decision to remove the stars and angels but she said she reconsidered her decision "after much input and contemplation" and that “this is a policy decision and one that should be taken up with the Board of Supervisors"
Thomas's original order to ban the ornaments was prompted by a complaint from a Santa Rosa resident Irv Sutley, who thinks the county should not show favoritism to any religion.
Stars and other religious icons such as angels were ordered removed from Christmas trees in all government buildings in Sonoma County, CA on Monday after Irv Sutley, a disabled 65-year-old Marine veteran, complained that the holiday symbols were "extremely offensive" and a part of the "cult" of Christianity.
"I just don't believe government has the right to intrude on anyone and force them into sectarian behavior," Sutley said. "I've opposed Buddhist statues, the star of David — anything of a religious nature."
Local church leaders spoke out against the ban. At least one county employee overtly defied the order, and Zane admits it is a decision that should involve the full board of supervisors.
Sutley filed the complaint with acting County Administrator Chris Thomas on Dec. 18 after noticing an angel on top of a six-foot tree in the county recorder's office lobby. Sutley, who is a lifelong atheist and chairman of Sonoma County's Peace and Freedom Party, said he visited the office last week to enter his bid for election next June.
Sutley said the angel violated previous court rulings concerning holiday displays, including a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that government-sponsored Christmas trees decorated with religious symbols constitute an illegal endorsement of Christian doctrine.
"To avoid any controversy and to satisfy this gentleman's concerns, the ornaments were removed," said Jim Toomey, a public information officer for Sonoma County.
On Wednesday, County administrator Chris Thomas reversed his original order banning the ornaments following a storm of criticism. He apologized in an e-mail to employees for "any inconvenience and disruption" caused by the ban enacted Monday.
Sutley said he would consult with attorneys before deciding whether to sue.
Most Recommended Comment
New Port Richey, Florida, United States