TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – Controversy may be brewing at the Florida Capitol thanks to a new holiday display set to go up this week.
A six-foot-tall Festivus pole made of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans will be placed in the Capitol building as a protest to the placement of a nativity scene in the capitol last week by the Florida Prayer Network, according to the News Service of Florida.
The protest pole is the brainchild of Chaz Stevens of Deerfield Beach. He called the Festivus pole, “my ridiculous statement versus what I consider, as an atheist, as their ridiculous statement.”
Festivus is a “holiday” created for the TV sitcom “Seinfeld” as a non-commercial festival “for the rest of us” in the Christmas and year-end holiday season. Festivus, celebrated Dec. 23, comes with a ceremonial post-dinner “airing of the grievances” in which participants describe how they have been disappointed by others in the past year and engage in “feats of strength.”
Festivus purists may favor a more-simple unadorned aluminum pole, but Stevens said the use of beer cans — he wouldn’t say who emptied the cans — is in line with the irreverent spirit of those who celebrate the holiday.
Late last week, the Madison, Wisc.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for non-theists and promotes the separation of church and state, also set up a “Bill of Rights nativity” banner in the rotunda. The foundation’s banner states: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the Birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season.”
Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network, said last week that such displays only “shine more light” on her group’s message that she said isn’t to be viewed as a state-sponsorship of religion.
“It’s their right, they have a right to exercise freedom of speech, that’s what America is about,” Olsen said. “It doesn’t faze me, it doesn’t faze the God I serve.”
Stevens, a proud card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, requested the Festivus display space from the state Department of Management Services after reading about the nativity display. A preliminary approval was given Friday with the formal approval made Monday.
Ben Wolf, a spokesman for the Department of Management Services, said as long as there is space available, and the proposed display meets state guidelines, it would likely get approval.
“As long as it meets those guidelines and there is space available in the capitol, DMS is happy to allow all cultures, and denominations, and committees and groups to put up their holiday displays,” Wolf said.
Stevens got Deerfield Beach to put up a similar, but taller pole last year after a local group put up a nativity scene outside a city fire house. In October, Deerfield Beach officials decided to ban all holiday displays on city-owned land that aren’t put up by the local government.
The Festivus pole is expected to go up Wednesday, a day after Gov. Rick Scott and the members of the Florida Cabinet hold a tree-lighting ceremony to mark the arrival of Florida-grown Christmas trees outside their first floor offices.
The News Service Of Florida’s Jim Turner Contributed To This Report