Gov't Offices Remove Star, Angel after Atheist Complaint

All government departments in Sonoma County, Calif., removed stars, angels and other religious ornaments this week after an atheist man filed a complaint that he was offended by the Christmas tree decorations.

Last week, Irv Sutley, a disabled marine veteran who regularly files complaints about religious symbols in public places, saw an angel on top of a six-foot Christmas tree in the lobby of the county recorder's office. Later he went to the office of the county Board of Supervisors where he saw a star ornament.

"For most people, a star atop a tree at this time of season represents the star of Bethlehem, which is a cult symbol, the cult being Christianity," said Sutley, who said the government should be neutral on religion, to the New York Times.

The 65-year-old lifelong atheist complained to Sonoma County officials, who in turn consulted their lawyers. Then on Monday the county asked its departments to remove stars, angels, or other religious symbols so as not to "appear to endorse Christian or other religious doctrines" during the Christmas season.

Sutley said he went to county departments this week and found all the religious decorations removed. He said was satisfied with the change.

"I just don't believe government has the right to intrude on anyone and force them into sectarian behavior," Sutley told "I've opposed Buddhist statues, the star of David – anything of a religious nature."

Jim Toomey, a public information officer for Sonoma County, said he did not know of any other person prior to Sutley who has complained about the holiday display. But to avoid controversy and to satisfy the Santa Rosa resident's concern, the county had ordered the removal of the ornaments, Toomey said.

Sutley said he plans to next ask Sonoma officials to remove a steel cross erected as a memorial to an accident victim, according to