For the first time in nearly 60 years, a nighttime holiday parade will return this year to Main Street in downtown Culpeper.
Culpeper Town Council earlier this week approved street closures and a permit for the “Culpeper Christmas Parade (Peppermint Parade) presented by Sheriff Scott Jenkins” on Sunday, Dec. 8, as long as the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office pays $7,000 for town police to provide security at the event.
Culpeper Renaissance, Inc., the town’s Main Street Program, with majority support from business owners, has endorsed the parade that generated mild controversy, at first, over its name. Some town council members felt calling it a Christmas parade was not inclusive enough.
Then at Tuesday night’s meeting, Town Attorney Martin Crim advised the local governing body of a potential violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the establishment of religion by government. The town could violate the First Amendment Clause if it paid staffing costs for the event, and allowed it to be called a Christmas Parade, according to Crim.
“There’s the issue of liability exposure,” or litigation to the town in that scenario, the attorney said. “It is a thorny issue from a legal perspective,” Crim added, resulting in “expensive and long-lasting cases.”
Town Councilman Keith Price commented that surely Culpeper was not the only locality in the country to hold a Christmas Parade, mentioning such events in Warrenton and Manassas. Crim, who also works as city attorney for Manassas, said localities have to provide the same level of service for all community events so as to avoid constitutional violations related to religion.
The Christmas Parade in Manassas, he added, has been going for some 50 years and is run by a private organization with support from the city because it generates revenue. How longstanding a tradition is, is part of the analysis of potential Establishment Clause violations, Crim said.
Price asked if the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office pays for the parade, would that limit liability exposure for the town, and Crim said, yes. The attorney said it would insulate the town from litigation because the local government would be treating the Christmas Parade like any other special event.
At this point, Councilman Jon Russell made a motion—which unanimously passed—authorizing the street closure and Main Street parade so long as the sheriff’s office covers the $7,000. The sheriff’s office will provide insurance for the event.
Town Manager Chris Hively told council the sheriff’s office had offered to provide all security staffing for the parade so as to ease cost burden to the town. However, Hively said, town police felt it had a duty to maintain control of the downtown, its territory, during the parade, and had declined the sheriff’s offer.
The sheriff’s office will still provide 14 employees to help with security, reducing costs by around $2,000, according to Hively.
“We’re going to have a parade,” said Mayor Mike Olinger.
The Sunday parade will begin at 5:30 p.m., following the same route as the Fireman’s Parade in May—starting at Piedmont Street and ending at Mason Street.
In an email to the Star-Exponent, Sheriff Jenkins said he agreed with the town’s terms for his parade.
“Yes, we’re really excited to bring the Culpeper Christmas parade downtown for everyone to enjoy. We’ve received huge interest and support this year and look forward to making this an annual tradition for years to come,” he said. “We’ll be sending out a release with information very soon for participants.”
Last year, Jenkins hosted a parade in December on the campus of Culpeper County High School and Middle School. The last time a holiday parade was held on Main Street was 1960.
Keith Brown, a candidate for Culpeper Town Council, spoke during the public comment session at Tuesday’s meeting. He noted the Establishment Clause also prohibits governments from hindering the “free exercise” of religion.
“I would like to call it a Christmas Parade,” Brown said. “It’s truly about the kids. The kids want a Christmas Parade. I’ve never heard it called anything else.”