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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Loudoun’s ‘Skeleton Santa’ dismantler speaks

A skeleton in a Santa suit, draped over a cross, on the grounds of the Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg on Dec. 5, 2011. Soon it was actually on the ground, courtesy of Mary Czarnecki. (Courtesy Ken Reid)
Mary Czarnecki was in the women’s locker room at the Ida Lee Park Rec Center in Leesburg last Monday when she first heard about it: A skeleton wearing a Santa suit, draped over a cross, on the front lawn of the Loudoun County courthouse. And the woman telling the story of this shocking sight was so upset she was “almost in tears,” Czarnecki recalled.

Czarnecki, a longtime Leesburg resident, drove past the courthouse, saw the jauntily posed sacrilege, and figured there was a mistake. It’ll be gone soon. But later, it was still there.

She thought about the children who might see it, and be traumatized by a possibly crucified Santa. (She’s a young grandmother.) She was offended as a Christian at the use of the cross. It did not seem funny, and the implied message of “Christmas commercialized to death” seemed insignificant to Czarnecki.

“So I parked my car and walked over,” she said. And though she hadn’t planned it, and certainly didn’t realize she’d be filmed by a local TV news crew, soon the controversial Kringle was neatly lying on the ground.

Here’s the video shot by WUSA-9, reported by Peggy Fox, and the rest of the story is after the jump.

Czarnecki said when she first walked up to the Skeleton Santa, a county employee was looking at it. She said she asked the woman if it was offensive, but she didn’t really say.

“You know what,” Czarnecki said she suddenly declared, “I’m going to take this down.”

The employee quickly got the heck out of there, Czarnecki said.

Rather than rip it to the ground, she carefully picked Santa and the suit off the cross and laid it down piece by piece. As she did, she thought to herself, “This is awful. Everybody knows this is awful. Is there any question it’s inappropriate.”

Then, 9 News Now’s Peggy Fox popped up from across the street, where she’d been filming, and captured most of the deal and asked Czarnecki some questions. Somewhat hilariously, a Loudoun sheriff’s deputy came out — and asked Fox and her photographer to leave. Not Czarnecki, who was dismantling a display which had been given a permit by the county.

“And I left,” Czarnecki said, calmly walking away. The display was later restored, then torn down again and damaged over the weekend, the Loudoun Times-Mirror reported.

“I was deeply offended,” Czarnecki said. “It felt like a spiritual assault. The cross is a symbol that Christians and non-Christians recognize. Nobody has the right to put up such a thing.” There has not been any indication that she will be charged with anything, she said.

I asked whether the creator of the piece, Jeff Heflin Jr. of Middleburg, had a First Amendment right to freedom of speech in this instance. “I don’t think that’s correct,” Czarnecki said. “Nobody can put whatever they want. If you deliberately attack a religion, it was threatening.”

Czarnecki said she didn’t commit a crime. “I don’t think I vandalized. I wasn’t malicious and I didn’t destroy anything,” she said.

It would seem the newly elected Board of Supervisors in Loudoun has only one path out of this mess next year: no displays of any kind on the grounds of the county courthouse. Why should a government get in the middle of this drama anyway? It’s the place to handle the boring adult functions of the law, not a community clubhouse.

By  |  05:00 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Categories:  Loudoun County, Leesburg | Tags:  Skeleton Santa, Mary Czarnecki, Virginia

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