12/06/2011 12:52 pm ET

Santa Skeleton On Cross: Vandal Knocks Down Holiday Display At Loudoun County Courthouse

'Tis the season for a Christmas decoration scandal.

A Virginia town is grappling with a controversy pitting free speech advocates against Christmas defenders after a vandal wrecked a crucified skeletal Santa Claus displayed on public grounds, according to The Loudoun Times.

The St. Nick skeleton on a cross barely had time to create an outrage before it was vandalized. It went up Monday morning outside the Loudoun County Courthouse as part of a town-approved display that featured eight other holiday-themed artworks, NBC Washington says.

By noon, the boney Kris Kringle was knocked down, fanning the flames of the perennial debate between free speech and good taste in the town of Leesburg.

The Santa skeleton represented "society's materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season," its creator Jeff Heflin wrote on his application to be included in the holiday exhibit, The Loudon Times reports.

There were widespread complaints about the artwork from residents saying the imagery was offensive and supported Mary Zenecki, the woman who ripped apart the so-called "Skele-Claus."

Local atheists, who generally oppose any public displays of religion, rushed to the defense of Heflin's message.

Leesburg has become a flashpoint in what pundit Bill O'Reilly calls the war on Christmas. A Loudoun courthouse committee banned nativity scenes and other Yuletide displays in 2009.

The officials reinstated exhibits the following year, but allowed representations of all faiths. to stand side by side. Last year's mishmash included two nativity scenes, a letter from Jesus, four atheist-designed works and a Star Wars-themed Jediist display.