Not Much Debate Over Capitol Holiday Displays This Year

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Visitors to the Florida Capitol likely won’t see a Nativity scene this year. They also won’t see a protest display from the Satanic Temple.

However, they could see a menorah. And an irreverent disco ball-topped, multi-colored gay pride festivus pole — built of beer cans — might still be on tap.

A Christian group that has put up Nativity scenes the past two years said Friday it won’t bring a creche to the Capitol rotunda for Christmas. As a result, the New York-based Satanic Temple, which doesn’t really worship the devil but argues for separation of church and state, announced it also won’t put up a display.

Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network, announced that her group’s decision not to set up a Nativity scene is an attempt to bring some needed civility to the country struggling with issues such as mass shootings and growing racial tensions.

“America is in desperate need of God’s help! We need to love God, love one another again, have hope and peace in our hearts, to act kindly and be civil to one another — this is the message of the Nativity!” Olsen said in an open letter Friday. “After much prayer, I truly want the message of Christ, The Son of God, born in a manger so long ago in Bethlehem, to be heard very clearly at this difficult time, instead of the dissension in the Capitol rotunda — this is not the year for that kind of debate in our rotunda.”

The addition of a Nativity scene two years ago attracted an array of counter-displays from atheists and groups that argue for the separation of church and state.

The-often-flippant displays included the sitcom-inspired festivus holiday pole and a decorated heap of rope symbolizing the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is more often associated with opposition to the introduction of creationism and intelligent design in public schools than the year-end holidays.

The Satanic Temple said its decision to stay away from the Capitol this year could change if any other group asks to put a Christian display.

“As the assertion of plurality is always primary in our holiday displays, and many of our activities, we feel that our Satanic Holiday displays work best in a forum where a Nativity is present,” the Satanic Temple said in an email. “Without a Nativity display we haven’t been properly motivated to apply for a display of our own. Should the decision to not set up a Nativity be reversed at any point, however, we have a beautiful display at the ready.”

The Department of Management Services, which oversees displays at the Capitol, rejected an application in 2013 for the temple’s falling-angel diorama, deeming it “grossly offensive.” The diorama, however, was approved last year and led to an incident in which a Tallahassee woman was accused of attempting to damage the display. A criminal-mischief charge was later dropped.

Natalee Singleton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Management Services, said the only applications that had been submitted as of Monday morning were for a menorah display by the Chabad Lubavitch of the Panhandle-Tallahassee and for a festivus pole display by Chaz Stevens, a political blogger from Deerfield Beach.

“Our Gay Pride Festivus Pole is a jubilant, may I say happy and gay, celebration of (the Supreme Court of the United States) recent ruling regarding same sex marriage,” said Stevens, who describes himself as a white heterosexual ally of the gay community. “Also, at the same time, we’re raising awareness to the problem of young LGBTQ men and women who are bullied and harassed.”

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.”

Stevens, building off his festivus poles — stacked empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans — that he first got approval to set up in the Capitol in 2013, said he has also applied to put similar poles in the state houses in Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Michigan.

“We’re a national effort at irreverence,” Stevens said.

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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