Sonoma bans religious Christmas symbols

Dec. 22, 2009 at 5:36 PM

SANTA ROSA, Calif., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- A California atheist has succeeded in getting all religious symbols of Christmas ordered out of Sonoma County government buildings.

The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat reported Tuesday Sonoma County Acting Administrator Chris Thomas instituted the ban Monday after receiving a complaint by Irv Sutley of Santa Rosa.

"I understand the concern about government endorsing religion or a doctrine, and I respect that is not our role," said Thomas, who had an offending ornament in a tree in his office.

Sutley, described by the newspaper as a 65-year-old disabled veteran who has long protested the use of religious symbols in government settings, said he first spied an angel on a tree in the lobby of the county recorder's office Friday, then found other religious Christmas symbols in other county government offices.

"I don't believe government has the right to use tax dollars to show favoritism to any particular cult like Christianity," he said. "It's just wrong. That's why we have the Constitution, to protect minorities from the majority opinion."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that while a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, it can assume that stature if decorated with religious symbols.

Thomas e-mailed managers of all 26 county departments asking them to take down any offending ornamentation.

"Please remove star toppers, angels and any other religious symbols from the trees so that we can celebrate the season yet not appear to endorse Christian or other religious doctrines," the e-mail stated.

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