No Religious Displays in the Capitol Building This Year

Last Winter, the Freedom From Religion Foundation began a media controversy when they decided to put their own pro-atheist plaque next to a nativity scene in the Washington state Capitol building

The reason they did it was to make a point: You cannot allow one religion’s beliefs to be represented on government property while rejecting another. Either they all stay or they all go.

It took a while, but Washington learned its lesson:

The Christmas tree can stay — but no more Nativity scene.

That’s the word from Washington’s Capitol, where protests erupted last winter over competing private holiday displays.

… a new temporary rule announced Monday says private groups can’t leave behind any displays after they’re done with a demonstration.

The so-called “Holiday Tree” will stay, because the state is taking it over from the previous sponsors. Officials hope to have a permanent rule in place later this year.

The policy, which took effect today, does not allow any nongovernmental displays in any building on Capitol grounds. But it does allow such displays outside, on campus grounds.

“We want to preserve everyone’s right to free expression. We just want to make sure we manage things better than they went last year,” said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the Department of General Administration.

The policy applies to any private organization or individual, not just religious — or atheist — group

Of course, you know how Bill O’Reilly‘s going to spin this one: if there is no religious display in the Capitol building, it means they are automatically promoting atheism! The heathens!

While this drama may disappear in Washington, I have no doubt we’ll see another Nativity scene on government property popping up somewhere else this year. The best response is not to destroy it or complain from a distance — atheists just need to bring along a display of our own so that the Christian setup isn’t lonely. (Scientologists, Hindus, and Pastafarians are all welcome to join us.) And if any of the non-Christian displays gets rejected, the city has a lawsuit coming their way. Merry Christmas!

  • Pat

    Ah, it seems like the War on Christmas starts earlier every year. As much as the city made the right decision, I’m sorry this was resolved. It provided solid entertainment last year. I am beginning to enjoy the War on Christmas almost as much as Christmas Day.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    If Bill O’Reilly spins it that way, it seems he will be correct.

    It is reasonable to allow one religion, or several religions to display celebratory materials on public property for the precise reason you mention that O’Reilly will mention.

    Nothing is a symbol of something.

    Hemant, I would expect a little bit more of an intense evaluation from someone who claims to be an intellectual.

  • J. Allen

    Secular means neutral.

    Neutral means acknowledging all expressions or none.

    They have chosen none, presumably, then to have a mess of displays.

    Nothing is a symbol of secularism, which the nation is supposed to be.

  • http://www.scoutingforall.org Brian Westley

    Actually, they haven’t chosen none; they still have a “Christmas tree”, which WAS also privately sponsored, but now is government-sponsored.

    This isn’t really neutral, it’s another bogus example of “watered-down Christianity” == “neutral”.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Nothing is a symbol of something.

    I disagree. If they put up a giant atheist scarlet “A”, then that would be a symbol and inappropriate. Not having any symbol doesn’t mean atheism. It merely means the government is taking no stance on the matter. The private citizens are free to worship (or not worship) as they please.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    Jon – You’re right, nothing is a symbol for something, but your “intense evaluation” is wrong. It’s a symbol for “we, the government, prefer to stay out of religious matters.”

  • Ron in Houston

    In the Kiryas Joel vs. Grumet case Souter wrote for the majority saying: “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

    As J Allen noted nothing is secularism which means irreligion in Souter’s terms.

    I’d call out Jon but after all he never claimed to be an “intellectual.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “Nothing is a symbol of something.”

    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Saying so makes it so.

  • Shannon

    Aw. I think a display for HumanLight would have been nice.

    I also agree that a tree is watered down Christianity. Yes, I know there are pagan roots and yes, many atheists like myself still celebrate it as a cultural thing. But realistically, most of the people seeing a Christmas tree are going to be thinking that the town hall is promoting CHRISTmas.

    Our town also has a “Holiday Tree”. It’s right next to the almost life size creche. Yeah.

  • JenV

    Meh. I don’t think one can necessarily correlate a Christmas tree with Christ. It’s mostly just a place to put your stash of Holiday loot. How a person decorates it makes it a Christian symbol, don’t you think? As in, tons of Baby Jesus/crosses/three kings/mangers/etc. versus pretty multi-colored lights, glass balls and tinsel? Maybe they should just call it “The Holiday Season Icon” and not “Christmas Tree.” Would that make you feel better?

  • Anonymous

    Of course, you know how Bill O’Reilly’s going to spin this one: if there is no religious display in the Capitol building, it means they are automatically promoting atheism! The heathens!

    Gee, I wonder where he might get this idea. It’s not like the Freedom from Religion Foundation had anything to do with why there are no religious displays there.

    While this drama may disappear in Washington

    That would suck. Where else would the culture warriors get their business? I’m sure they’ll find a way to keep the drama going just for the sake of being drama queens.

    (Scientologists, Hindus, and Pastafarians are all welcome to join us.) And if any of the non-Christian displays gets rejected, the city has a lawsuit coming their way. Merry Christmas!

    That’s the spirit! Ya gotta keep those lawsuits coming to sustain widespread distrust of atheists in America. Let’s put those new atheists in their place by making atheism unpopular again! Yeah!

    JenV: Screw the “Holiday Season Icon.” It needs to be replaced with a Festivus pole. I find tinsel very distracting.

  • Sven

    Can anybody point me to the Christian scripture that says we have to:

    -Find a tree of the conifer family,
    -Decorate this tree with lights and colourful stuff,
    -Outdo Thy Neighbor with even more lights and colourfulness,
    -Eat vulgair amounts of food?
    Not in the bible? So, how is it christian then?

  • Siamang

    Let’s put those new atheists in their place by making atheism unpopular again! Yeah!

    I’d rather be right than popular any day.

    Which is why, duh, I’m an atheist!

  • Richard P

    the people seeing a Christmas tree are going to be thinking that the town hall is promoting CHRISTmas.

    I don’t see it, I think that that is taking it to an extreme. Really how many people that see a x-mass tree stop and go. hmmm these guys are promoting christ… usually there thinking “wow nice tree”.

    So there is a symbol that represents a time of year with a diverse cultural background to it. To a christian it represents the birth of christ, to me it represents 17 years of hell at home,(well it did, but not any more..). I am sure as much as we are a diverse world it has as many diverse meanings as well.
    Maybe it is one of those things in which we should not worry so much about what others think of it, but put it into perspective of what it should mean to us.

  • Neon Genesis

    Since when is Christmas even mentioned anywhere in the bible anywhere anyway? The whole holiday is unbiblical. And why are some Christians so addicted to Jebuz that they can’t go anywhere in public during Christmas without Jebuz being in their face? Don’t they see their nativity scenes enough at home? If you can’t survive going to a government-owned building without seeing Jebuz 24/7, you need to either stay home or seek psychiatric help for your unhealthy addiction.

  • http://3harpiesltd.org/ocb Judith Bandsma

    I always thought the decorated tree was anathema to christians, being a symbol of paganism and all.

  • The Other Tom

    Richard P, ask a jew or a muslim if a christmas tree represents christianity, and I believe you’ll get a resounding “yes”. It is in no way a neutral symbol, and a state-sponsored christmas tree is state-sponsored religion. As long as Washington is permitted to ban all symbols except the christian symbol they have selected, it is proof that Washington is an officially christian state, in direct violation of the constitution. All your wishy-washy apologetics for it doesn’t change the fact.

  • Neon Genesis

    If Bill O’Reilly spins it that way, it seems he will be correct.

    How is it correct? Simply asserting that it is does not make it so. Consider this analogy. If I take some chocolate out of a box and put it in the fridge so it won’t melt in the summer, does this mean I am somehow magically saying the chocolate does not exist just because I’m putting the chocolate out of the box and into the fridge where it belongs? No, I am simply putting the chocolate into the fridge and putting the chocolate into the fridge says nothing whatsoever about whether or not the chocolate exists. Similarly, taking the religious icons out of the government building and putting them where they belong does not mean the government is saying they do not exist. They are simply putting the religious icons where they belong.

  • http://alliedatheistalliance.blogspot.com advertisinglies

    I live in Washington – most places here stopped doing the whole nativity scene thing a long time ago and now most towns have an entire section of the town decorated with lights, not just one tree. We’re happy and enjoy decorations and celebrations during the holidays just like everyone else. You can easily decorate with lights and other embellishments and stay secular. No one has killed Christmas, Santa Clause is not dead, no worries. :D Jesus can still be celebrated in a personal way if you like. This way, everyone gets that warm fuzzy feeling of the holidays and no one is elevated or excluded. How can that be a bad thing?

  • Richard P

    Richard P, ask a jew or a muslim if a christmas tree represents christianity, and I believe you’ll get a resounding “yes”.

    Well I would guess that what it is, as a symbol would very from place to place.
    As it happens I do know a few jews, and I know a few muslims. Now I am from Canada, and I guess most of us are a little less high strung, But none of the group that I know have a problem with the tree and what it represents. Sure, they know it has a christian heritage. But, it just doesn’t mean that to them. So I am sure that to some it represents evil religion, obviously this is true.
    I just think to fuss about it is a waste of energy. You have the power to let it represent what ever you want.

  • http://attemptsatrationalbehavior.blogspot.com Julie

    What exactly would be an atheist display…just in case I have to create one. I giant illuminated science book?

  • http://worryaboutethics.wordpress.com/ Steve

    You’re all missing the point about Christmas trees… Most people sit around them and open presents on Jesus’s birthday every year and have done for quite a long time now. See a Christmas tree, think of Christmas. A Christian holiday.

  • thilina

    Of course, you know how Bill O’Reilly’s going to spin this one: if there is no religious display in the Capitol building, it means they are automatically promoting atheism! The heathens!

    Gee, I wonder where he might get this idea. It’s not like the Freedom from Religion Foundation had anything to do with why there are no religious displays there.

    How convenient that you forgot the FFRF sign was also removed when making that statement (just like Bill O’Reilly will if he picks up this story).

    How stupid is it to claim that a building without any religious symbols is inherently promoting atheism. Wouldn’t this mean pretty much every single building (except churches, temples, etc) promotes atheism.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

    If government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion, then shouldn’t it hold true that government shouldn’t prefer irreligion to religion?

    Separation of church and state is not fully possible, for that reason. It would be nice to say “Can’t we all just get along?” but that is not really possible when two or more ideals are in direct conflict with one another and for one to be removed means the other takes hold.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    How stupid is it to claim that a building without any religious symbols is inherently promoting atheism. Wouldn’t this mean pretty much every single building (except churches, temples, etc) promotes atheism.

    No. Guess again.

  • http://deleted Siamang

    If government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion, then shouldn’t it hold true that government shouldn’t prefer irreligion to religion?

    Jon,

    I think you’re conflating irreligion with a lack of government preference.

    There are three states being addressed here. Government support of religion, government lacks a preference, government supports atheism.

    You’re playing a bit of a shell game claiming that lack of support, the center position, is equal to government support of atheism. If Ron’s quote of Souter is accurate, he’s expressing a preferred government position of NEUTRALITY BETWEEN religion and irreligion.

    You can claim that there are only two positions there. But you cannot simultaneously do so and use Souter’s quote to support it. For if there is only two positions, Souter’s sentence is made nonsensical.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    If the tree stays, then the Solstice (kinda, sorta) wins.

  • Talley

    If government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion, then shouldn’t it hold true that government shouldn’t prefer irreligion to religion?

    If government preferred irreligion to religion, it would ban all displays of religious iconography everywhere, even on private property. As it is, that’s not happening, and never will. Having no religious symbols in a government building is not a preference for irreligion. In some places, it’s known as neutrality.

    Separation of church and state is not fully possible, for that reason. It would be nice to say “Can’t we all just get along?” but that is not really possible when two or more ideals are in direct conflict with one another and for one to be removed means the other takes hold.

    To quote a wise man, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

  • John

    Jon:
    You’re consistently equivocating secular with atheist. They are not the same thing, or else you need to demonstrate that they are.

  • keddaw

    Christmas, as a holiday, was stolen from paganism.

    The tree is a symbol of paganism.

    They ARE promoting religion by having a tree.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    For if there is only two positions, Souter’s sentence is made nonsensical.

    Exactly. Now you are using your head.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    You’re consistently equivocating secular with atheist. They are not the same thing, or else you need to demonstrate that they are.

    John – Everyone has a worldview. Some would say that everyone has a religion. Given that, it isn’t possible for the government to remain unbiased because whatever they do, it is pissing someone off or promoting another’s cause.

    So, it might be nice if it was possible, but separation of church and state really isn’t fully possible. Given that, it would seem that in America, the unpopular view loses. At the moment, that might be the athiest viewpoint. In the future, that is likely to be the Christian viewpoint. And you will quickly forget how much you were whining about it if your viewpoint becomes more popular.

  • Shannon

    The tree is originally a pagan thing which is why some (usually the more fundamental) Christians oppose it. But they are a small minority from what I have seen. I really think that the vast majority of people asked would identify a decorated pine tree with Christmas. I really doubt that’s *not* the case.

    Heh, we could do informal surveys. Print out a picture of a decorated tree and ask people what it is. Your friends, your family, random strangers, the cashier at the Quick-E-Mart. That could be fun ;-)

    I do get that people are trying to make it non-specific but I don’t agree it’s already happened. It’s still a Christmas tree.

    And honestly? I don’t really care. In my area, Judaism is the next biggest religion and most public property displays also have a menorah so at least it’s not just one religion being promoted. And like I said, they have the “Holiday Tree” (which gets lit in a big ceremony where they also have a fat man in a red suit and beard show up, but I’m sure that’s not any particular religion either, lol!).

    I think it’s the nice little bubble I live in here, but I’ve never felt persecuted as an atheist and I don’t mind these things, but I am aware they are there and disagree with those who say they aren’t.

  • Neon Genesis

    John – Everyone has a worldview. Some would say that everyone has a religion. Given that, it isn’t possible for the government to remain unbiased because whatever they do, it is pissing someone off or promoting another’s cause.

    As thilina pointed out, if the government was promoting atheism by not having any religious icons up during Christians in government-owned buildings, why didn’t they take down the Christmas tree and keep up only the atheist sign? Answer the question.

    Given that, it would seem that in America, the unpopular view loses. At the moment, that might be the athiest viewpoint. In the future, that is likely to be the Christian viewpoint. And you will quickly forget how much you were whining about it if your viewpoint becomes more popular.

    Doesn’t your beliefs on politics sound an awful lot like Social Darwinism? Survival of the fittest and all that?

  • John

    Given that, it isn’t possible for the government to remain unbiased because whatever they do, it is pissing someone off or promoting another’s cause.

    I completely disagree. Just because someone’s pissed off doesn’t mean they’re being treated unfairly.

  • K

    The decorated evergreen tree a ‘watered-down’ Christmas symbol? Nay, the Christians stole that from the pagans! Like they did the Yule log, the Easter bunny, the virgin giving birth to a god-man…

    This is an epic win for Washington, though. For once I’m glad I live here. ;)

    As for the holiday tree, in years past I’ve put up a tree for the winter solstice. I haven’t been a Christian for at least a decade now. Some years, I’ll go treeless, but other years, I’ll feel like decorating. Not only is it in part a celebration of tender times past when family was near and dear… it’s also for me a non-denominational celebration of light, sharing, giving, and all those other end-of-year feelings we’re supposed to feel during the holidays. So as a Christian, as a Wiccan, and as an Atheist I’ve put up a holiday tree. I see nothing wrong with maintaining the tradition in the capitol as long as there are no religious displays to go along with it.

  • Siamang

    As thilina pointed out, if the government was promoting atheism by not having any religious icons up during Christians in government-owned buildings, why didn’t they take down the Christmas tree and keep up only the atheist sign? Answer the question.

    NG, Jon won’t answer the question. He’s too busy playing word games and being an all-around troll.

    You win by default. He refuses to answer the question (because it is reasonable, logical and disproves his entire point.)

    Oh, and I still think it’s quite possible Jon is just an atheist’s sockpuppet that is put here to make fun of theists. Jon, if you’re real, PLEASE stick around. You make our points for us, brilliantly.

    If you’re not for real, please cut it out. It’s an unfair debating tactic to masquerade as your opponent to discredit their position.

  • http://oscargecko.blogspot.com Oscar Gecko

    Why is it that people think our government should be completely separate from any form of religion? The US Constitution protects our choice of religion by not allowing the government to choose a religion for us. It is our choice, not the government’s choice.

    Part of this freedom is that not everyone is going to like it. It goes hand in hand with free speech. Unfortunately, it will most likely make someone mad.

    I do not agree with all of the Freedom From Religion’s ideas. But, I think that the Freedom From Religion Foundation putting their plaque on display is what freedom of religion is all about. I fully support it, regardless of my beliefs. I think that they should be both on display.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    @Oscar Gecko,

    Why is it that people think our government should be completely separate from any form of religion? The US Constitution protects our choice of religion by not allowing the government to choose a religion for us. It is our choice, not the government’s choice.

    You answered your own question with your second sentence.
    Our government is to be completely separate from any form of religion because the US Constitution establishes that precedent.

  • http://oscargecko.blogspot.com Oscar Gecko

    @bønez_brigade

    Our government is to be completely separate from any form of religion because the US Constitution establishes that precedent.

    Where did that come from? The First Amendment? It has no words even close in meaning to the word “separate.”

    Thomas Jefferson was the first to coin the words “Seperation of Church and State.” It was in reference to the Danbury Baptists whom wanted Jefferson to establish Christianity as an American religion. Jefferson said:

    …legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State…

    You can find more info on that letter here: Letter to Danbury Baptists Association

    Many Supreme Court decisions cite this as a way to interpret the First Amendment. But they stop there and make no attempts to go any further.

    Is that what Jefferson meant? A few Supreme Court judges would like you to believe so. When he wrote that letter, he had no idea of how much of a bearing it would have on this issue.

    If Jefferson meant for our government to be completely separate, he would have done it that way. I think we all would agree on that. But he didn’t. In fact…

    It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson’s example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House… were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary.

    In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.

    Both of these can be found here for more reading… THE STATE BECOMES THE CHURCH: JEFFERSON AND MADISON
    Can someone reasonably tell me why Jefferson AND Madison held church on government grounds if either of them meant for our government to have nothing to do with religion?

  • Neon Genesis

    Can someone reasonably tell me why Jefferson AND Madison held church on government grounds if either of them meant for our government to have nothing to do with religion?

    Even if the Founding Fathers believed in a religious theocracy, who cares? They believed slavery should be legal too, so should we still legalize slavery today? Last I checked, American democracy was not divenly inspired by God and inerrant. Do you think God is going to smite us if we don’t have a Christian theocracy? Some faith you have in God. Whether the Founding Fathers believed in a theocracy or not is besides the point. Theocracies were immoral then and they’re immoral now. Unless you want to argue that slavery should be legal because the Founding Fathers thought so, you can’t use the same reasoning for a theocracy. Besides, I thought the American government was founded by American citizens? Not Jesus, the 12 apostles plus government officials?

  • http://oscargecko.blogspot.com Oscar Gecko

    First, sorry for the delay in my response.

    Next, where do you get that I mentioned or hinted at our Founding Fathers believing in a religious theocracy? I never said that. If you are referring to my examples, they only point out that the Founding Fathers did not believe in the words “separation of church and state” as touted by the anti-christian/anti-religious groups do.

    If they did want the government to keep their hands completely out of religion, then why did Jefferson and Madison support religion on state grounds?

    Jefferson’s name is most significant because it was his letter to the Danbury Baptists that the words “separation of church and state” come from. Jefferson was not trying to remove religion from the government, he was trying to keep religion from controlling the government.

    As a side note, I do not totally agree with the FFRF. But, they do have their right to post the plaque.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    Where did that come from? The First Amendment? It has no words even close in meaning to the word “separate.”

    Umm, yeah.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

    together with

    “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

    both set the precedent that our government is to stay separate from religion.

    What would you expect it to say?

  • http://oscargecko.blogspot.com Oscar Gecko

    I am not receiving new comments.. so I am trying a slightly different email address here… And again, sorry for the delay.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    It means that literally, Congress cannot make a law. What type of law? Any law that establishes any religion as the government approved religion.

    It does not say that a nativity scene cannot be put up on display on capitol grounds. It does not say that an atheist plaque cannot be put on display on capitol grounds. These are both fine examples of the “free exercise thereof.” It does say that Congress shall not make a law…”

    In fact, Jefferson tried to include every aspect of other religions when he held church on government grounds. He did not establish a religion. In his roll as president, he honored all views, even those that he opposed.

    It was his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association from which the words “Separation of Church and State” are derived from. Jefferson was opposed to the Danbury Baptists attempts in establishing our nation as a Christian nation. He wasn’t opposed to cutting religious ties. His own actions tell us that.

  • clay

    “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” — Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813

  • Lauren

    Everyone got a display except our friends, the Satanists. Yup, a giant goat head dripping with blood and black candles would probably get this tacky, non-biodegradable stuff yanked real quick.

  • Debbie Young

    You breath air , but you don’t see it , yet you know its there ! You see the stars in heaven yet they don’t fall unless god allows it ! You see the earth float in outter space , and it doesn’t fall into oblivion ! You see the sun that just shines in outter space , and its been there for thousands of years ! You think they just created there selfs , what gall do you have to say there is no god ! God help you on judgement day my dear sweet people , because Hell is real guys , and its eternal ! God is real , and his son was sent to save the world, and to save you ! May god have mercy on your lost souls ! Love Debbie


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