Sonoma's Starless Christmas

Atheist activist victorious over Christmas decorations

By Jessica Greene
|  Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 AM PDT
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Sonoma County officials are removing religious symbols from trees in county buildings on the orders of Acting County Administrator Chris Thomas.

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There are no stars, angels, crosses or other religious symbols on Christmas trees in Sonoma County government buildings this year.

County officials are removing religious symbols from trees in county buildings on the orders of Acting County Administrator Chris Thomas, who issued the ban after a complaint.

While it may seem like a "bah humbug" kind of thing to do, Irv Sutley is claiming victory. Sutley, a 65-year-old atheist and disabled veteran who has long been against the display of religious symbols in government settings, told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he just wants the county to follow the law.

"I don't believe government has the right to use tax dollars to show favoritism to any particular cult like Christianity," Sutly, an atheist with a history of protesting the use of religious symbols in government buildings, told the Press Democrat. "It's just wrong. That's why we have the Constitution, to protect minorities from the majority opinion."

So why isn't Sutly isn't trying to stomp the Christmas tree into the ground, too? His legal argument is based in a U.S. Supreme Court case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1989, which found that government may celebrate Christmas but not if it endorses Christian doctrine.

Oddly enough, the court also found that Christmas trees are not religious symbols unless they are decorated with religious objects.

So, now, instead of Christmas trees, maybe Sonoma County officials should say they have Xmas trees in government buildings.

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