Va.: 'Overtly Christian' symbols OK

Aug. 24, 2010 at 8:45 PM

RICHMOND, Va., Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Holiday displays at government facilities may include depictions of Jesus along with "candy canes," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says.

In a ruling issued in response to a query by a member of the state Legislature, Cuccinelli said local governments may put up holiday displays that feature "overtly Christian symbols" as long as the displays are balanced by inclusion of secular symbols and symbols of faiths other than Christianity, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

In an opinion issued Friday, Cuccinelli said local governments are "never categorically compelled to prohibit holiday displays."

"... The county is free to communicate its own recognition of the holidays, including Christmas, as long as overtly Christian symbols are balanced with other religious and secular ones in a way that communicates to reasonable, informed observers that the county is not making a religious statement.

"Because secular symbols can insulate innately religious symbols from constitutional attack, decoration of public buildings with such secular items such as lights, candy canes, poinsettias, fir trees, snowflakes, and red and green ribbons should raise no serious constitutional objection."

The opinion says counties that erect displays "will usually lack the right to exclude a religious display of reasonable duration based solely on content."

Republican Delegate Robert Marshall -- who requested the opinion -- had asked Cuccinelli in recent weeks for legal opinions on whether the state has legal authority to regulate abortion clinics beyond existing state and federal law, and what authority the state has to question suspects who may be in the United States illegally, the newspaper said.

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