Fla. County Reverses Christmas Tree Ban

Get out the tinsel and lights, Christmas trees are returning to Pasco County (search) buildings.

Pasco officials revoked a ban on Christmas trees in county buildings Friday, two days after ordering the trees to come down because they were considered religious symbols, said Dan Johnson, assistant county administrator for Public Services.

In a revised decision, the county attorney said that a Christmas tree is a purely secular symbol, along with Santa Claus (search) and candy canes.

"Whether through misunderstanding or miscommunication, the actions and statements of this office ... have been taken to the extreme," wrote Kristi Wooden, an assistant county attorney.

Wooden also said a menorah could be displayed with a Christmas tree if a sign was added to the display reading: "Salute to Liberty. During this holiday season, the (government entity) salutes liberty. Let these festive lights remind us that we are the keepers of the flame of liberty and our legacy of freedom."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (search), said the sign wasn't necessary, but "nobody's going to complain about a sign about freedom and liberty."

The center, a law firm founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, had asked the county to reverse the ban.

"It was a complete overreaction by the county, almost to the point of absurd," Sekulow said.

Pasco County, with nearly 400,000 residents, is a fast-growing area that has a mix of rural and urban areas and whose population has grown due to the urban sprawl that has crawled north from Tampa.

Previously, the county allowed the display of Christmas trees but not religious symbols, Johnson said.

When a man wanted to display a menorah at a county building, the county attorney investigated and decided that menorahs couldn't be displayed, but neither could Christmas trees, because both were religious symbols. Under the short-lived ban, Christmas trees could remain in various county government offices deemed "semiprivate" areas, such as personal offices.

"For 15 years, we didn't have an issue, we didn't have a problem," Johnson said. "Hopefully we can all just return to normal."