The National Chr…uh, I mean, “Capitol Holiday Tree”

Religious Sects Cause a Disturbance—a ‘Capital Gift’ for Taxpayers

Cut ‘er down, boys!

Monterey, Virginia — The custom of placing a “Holiday” tree on the front lawn of the Capitol dates back to 1964. For the past 34 years the tree has been cut from a national forest, this being the first tree from Virginia, selected from the Highland County portion of George Washington National Forest. After being flown across the county by helicopter, it was set down at the county fair grounds where it was prepared for its journey through Virginia and then to the Capitol.

“Once again, political meddling soured what could have been a chance to bring Highland County people together at this time of year.” That was the reaction of one resident of this rural, western Virginia county. The November 13th “send-off ceremony” for the 67-foot red spruce “Holiday” tree appears to have turned the county fair grounds into more of a “celebrity and political photo-op” than a ceremony, and, according to another resident, “Controversies leading up to the send-off ceremony divided and angered people.” Many residents refused to participate in the preparations or to be present on the ‘big day,’ especially when members of local religious sects were warned there was to be absolutely no mention of the “C” word.

In the weeks before the official send-off, there was a near rebellion by sect leaders and their followers when the county attorney laid down the “law” about certain displays, songs and references to ‘religious superstition’ in public places. She was probably attempting to keep the county out of another one of the lawsuits which have plagued officials in recent years. Despite a letter of “clarification” in the local paper, rumors persist she was instructed by one prominent lady to “take the tree and shove it.”

Even so, there were some words used by sect members at the “send-off” which got past the Highland County Censorship Commission. One song reportedly slipped the “C” word in several times. Fortunately, county supervisors boldly asserted their authority to “protect residents’ morals, safety and welfare.”

When Supervisor Jerry Rexrode was confronted by sect leaders about First Amendment protections of free speech and religious expression, he made it clear, “I don’t consider no Constitution in my decisions. I don’t consider nothin’ to do with it even if I took an oath to uphold it…but, I mean, you know…I might, sort of, basically agree to some extent with you folks about the First Amendment…but, you know, it’s…ah…it’s outdated and outlawed, so I won’t do nothin’ against them mandates we get from Government. If we was to go against it… ah… them… they’d throw us in jail.”

One female resident yelled out, “Ain’t that where you belong, Jerry?” Rexrode ordered the unruly woman taken into custody and charged with violations of the federal Homeland Security Acts. The resident was believed to have been transported to Camp X-ray. Sheriff Herb Lightner would not comment due to “national security concerns.”

Residents appealed to Supervisor Lee Blagg, but he stated, “I have no comment except to say Jerry has done so much good for the county that I will do whatever he tells me to do on this issue.”

Another person, a new county landowner, who is alleged to be extremely wealthy, spoke up, “I will move my millions and my organic buffalo farm out of the county if anyone even mentions the “C’ word in connection with that scraggly old spruce tree. They should have cut it down long ago. That tree isn’t even native to Highland County.” Supervisor Rexrode, a building contractor, and Supervisor Chairman Sullenberger, a real estate salesman, both quickly assured him they would “use every means, including higher taxes, to keep all your money here in the county.”

Confidential sources leaked word the Board of Supervisors held a special, unannounced, closed-door meeting where they approved surveillance of the Courthouse, public places, businesses and the fair grounds by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) undercover agents. The agents were trained and funded with federal grants and were “wired” with concealed cameras and tape recorders. Several people were detained after wishing the secret agents a “Merry Chr-----s.” Commonwealth’s Attorney, John Lohr, would not comment about possible indictments, but stated it was a “serious offense.”

After a reactionary Alabama judge was kicked off the state supreme Court for placing some stone tablets in a state court building, Highland County officials were taking no chances. After all, 50 years ago killing unborn babies was murder. But today Americans have gotten past such nonsense. Now we worship nine black-robed priests who have decreed infanticide is just another form of personal choice. But religious fanatics, expressing their beliefs in public places, are not making ‘personal choices.’ They are committing criminal acts—and must be prosecuted for subversion and heresy. Thank G...uh, Government there are such fine people ‘making’ our “laws” and such fine local and state officials who go along with them.

Meanwhile, back at the fair grounds, the “Holiday” tree, nestled aboard a huge trailer, drew attention away from two very elderly gentlemen visitors who stood off to the side, virtually unnoticed.

The first, whose face was strikingly similar to the portrait appearing on our “dollar bill,” was overheard chattering something through his false teeth about spending one cold Chr-----s, long ago, on the Delaware River, it being “impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being… impossible to rightly govern the world without G-d and the B--le.” Pretty radical ideas for these modern times!

The second fellow, carrying a book entitled 1984, turned to the first and in a low voice said, “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day-by-day and minute-by-minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which Government is always right.” No doubt both men were agitators from a bygone era. They hurriedly left the scene as the dignitaries started their speeches.

The history of “Holiday” has been difficult to trace, but a few myths have survived. In 16th Century Germany, a nutcase named Martin Luther came up with the bright idea of decorating a tree with lights. At about the same time in England, remembering the myth of the Three Stupid Men, people began giving each other gifts. Some people think it was a stupid idea! But where the heck would our economy be without “Holiday” and where the heck would Government be without all the tax revenue?

And it all reportedly began with an obscure, long-haired, sandal-wearing, religious fanatic who wandered around the Middle East. His name has pretty much been forgotten with the passing of centuries, thank G…uh, Government, although there are a few isolated, primitive sects remaining in the backwoods of Highland and surrounding counties who cling to the idea he was some sort of deity.

But the best part of the “send-off celebration” was the food and refreshments— and the entertainment provided by politicians. There were the usual ‘I love Highland, vote for me’ speeches. Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, 6th District U. S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who never misses a chance to hand out pork sandwiches and do a little mid-term electioneering, and Virginia Senator Emmett “Hang-the-Taxpayer” Hanger were there to do some of their special slick-talking and image-polishing tricks for the Chamber of Commerce crowd.

After voting to hammer county landowners with another substantial property tax hike this year, Highland County Supervisors declared the county is “about broke.” Yet the Board OK’d a specially-catered ‘Holiday’ meal for the “dignitaries” who descended on Monterey...and then, as usual, passed the tab to the taxpayers. The expenditure was made without public discussion and without a public vote. According to inside sources, the three supervisors verbally approved the catered meal by private telephone calls. Meanwhile, the Highland High School Senior Class served BBQ chicken dinners to the commoners.

Chairman Sullenberger made a big point of noting how residents had “volunteered” to prepare 10,000 cookies, brownies and cakes. Congressman Bob Goodlatte effused about ‘volunteerism.’ When someone asked why county taxpayers had not been “volunteered to attend to the catered affair,” Sullenberger and Goodlatte were heard to joke, “Let them eat cake.”

According to the Highland Chamber of Commerce, the Holiday tree is known as “the people’s tree.” With all the Comrades running things in Washington (and Virginia too?), no wonder they picked a red spruce.

Editorial Note: January 30, 2005— Some readers might be offended by Allie’s commentary, however he brings into focus the predictable results of government interference in what should have been, and could be, a totally private national effort. Are there no suitable Christmas trees on private property? Enthusiasm and volunteer community spirit always seem to be marred and twisted when politics and “public policy” sticks its snotty nose into our private affairs. The simple fact of Christmas being renamed “Holiday” by “Government” should give pause to people of every faith. And the hypocrisy of some officials, pandering to local religious sentiments yet doing little or nothing to reverse federal policy, was never more evident. If Christmas is an affirmation of the birth of Christ, why would Christians have any truck with the Orwellian celebration of “Holiday”? Perhaps local religious leaders should have sponsored their own celebration—or just stayed away in protest.

Since Allie wrote the above article, additional facts have come to light. The ‘bill’ to Highland County taxpayers for the catered meal came to $1411.74. Roberta Lambert, County Administrator, advised on December 28, the “sale of Capitol Holiday Tree note cards will be remitted to the county” to offset the cost of the luncheon. The amount of the offset is unknown at this time.

Catered meals cost a whopping $16.04 for each of the 88 attendees. These included 13 USFS personnel; Virginia officials and legislators; Planning District Commission members; County, town and school elected officials (Board of Supervisors, School Board, Town Council & Mayor, Commissioner of Revenue, Treasurer, Clerk of Court, Sheriff, Commonwealth Attorney); School Superintendent; County Administrator; Five member local tree committee (Carolyn Pohowsky, Betty Mitchell, Teri Puffenbarger, Winnie Richardson and Roberta Lambert). In addition, Administrator Roberta Lambert stated invitees “were allowed to bring a guest of their choice (or guests in the case of a few individuals such as Delegate Saxman whose family was in attendance)—this was mainly done to accommodate the guests traveling from long distances who were bringing their spouse, child, friend, etc. along with them to enjoy and/or participate in the afternoon celebration.”

Chicken dinners are not good enough for the elite? And what happened to all the wonderful home-cooking provided year-round by so many of the ladies who voluntarily support the fire departments and civic organizations with meals? If approached in the real spirit of volunteerism and giving at the Christmas season, would they have provided meals at little or no cost to the taxpayer in an “almost broke” county? Since when is it the proper function of government to provide bread and circuses.

According to figures provided by JoBeth Brown, Public Affairs Officer, George Washington & Jefferson National Forests office in Roanoke, the Forest Service costs in FY2004 and FY2005 for the “Holiday Tree” project are approximately $323,000. She states these figures “do not include the time and dollars contributed by State Agencies, non-profits, individuals and other organizations or contributions collected through the non-profit Capitol Holiday Tree 2004 fund.” For example, in FY2005, the helicopter transport for the tree cost $26,935; salaries were $133,279; travel expenses were $31,392.

In a January 3, 2005 discussion with County Attorney, Melissa Ann Dowd, she explained the uproar over her advice to county officials about religious expression was complicated by initial federal/county government sponsorship of the local event, later changed. In fact, she was advising county officials regarding the ruling by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court in Richmond and was indeed, as Allie suspected, trying to avoid the possibility of legal action against the county, apparently initially misunderstood by county clergy and a number of county residents. She was not attempting to impose personal beliefs on county officials or county religious leaders and residents, nor was she attempting to censor private parties. She also indicated the county ministerial association, after meeting and considering her legal advice to county officials, fully understood her explanation of the federal decision.

Allie Williston, a devout Christian, says his article “does not in any way mean to disparage the individual efforts and Christmas spirit of contributors.” But, he added, “I was disgusted by the politicization of the event,” and that elected officials “allowed it to happen that way—that Christmas is ‘officially’ no longer Christmas. They condoned the disgrace by their participation.”