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Washington State Capitol"Holiday" Display-"Circus" is right
It is so out-of-control now. A Festivus Pole? This was a week ago, but, yesterday there was another application to add a sign that says, "Santa Claus will take you to Hell." from a conservative Evangelical church that is not even in this state!
Capitol holiday-display controversy turning into "circus"
By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times religion reporter
The state Capitol hosts a Nativity scene and a 25-foot "holiday tree." The nearby atheists' sign that sparked a nationwide furor was back in place Friday after being stolen and then dropped off at a country-music radio station.
And joining those displays soon could be a 5-foot aluminum pole in celebration of "Festivus for the Rest of Us." Not to mention a protest, a balloon display and even more signs, this time supporting religion.
"It's a circus and we're the center ring," said state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who wants the atheists' sign moved farther from the Nativity scene and the governor to establish firmer guidelines on displays.
Things in Olympia have taken a bizarre turn since Monday, when the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group for atheists and agnostics, put up a sign that says, in part: "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." The sign was partly a reaction to the Nativity scene.
The issue went national when FOX News personality Bill O'Reilly chastised the state during his show for allowing the sign.
On Friday, workers discovered the sign was missing shortly after the building opened at 7 a.m., said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the Department of General Administration, which maintains the Capitol grounds.
Later that morning, a man carrying the sign walked into country-music radio station KMPS in Seattle, saying "you know what it's for," said News Director Stephen Kilbreath. Radio-show host Ichabod Caine and others had been talking Friday morning about how disparaging the sign was.
Of the sign turning up at the station, Caine said: "First you think: No way this happened. ... That's sort of funny on one level."
But what happened was stealing, Caine said, and "certainly, because we know 'thou shalt not steal,' don't steal a sign."
The Washington State Patrol is investigating the theft. The State Patrol also is providing extra security in the Capitol for all the holiday displays, Sgt. Mark Arras said.
The Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church put up his own sign at the Capitol on Friday that says, in part: "There is one God. ... Atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
There are requests for other displays as well. Someone applied to put up a "Festivus" pole in honor of the invented holiday featured in the 1990s sitcom "Seinfeld." Another person wants to create a religious-themed "balloon display."
And a demonstration against the atheists' sign is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday on the Capitol steps.
Organizer Steve Wilson of Federal Way said he's for free speech but thinks the sign denigrates religious people. His rally is intended to be pro-faith, not anti-atheist. "We just want to go show our support for people of faith. We don't want any hate," he said.
O'Reilly, on his FOX News show earlier this week, urged viewers to call Gov. Christine Gregoire's office to protest the sign. Gregoire's office received more than 9,000 calls Thursday alone, said spokesman Pearse Edwards.
Both Hutcherson and Roach taped segments Friday for a follow-up segment on O'Reilly's show.
Gregoire, a Democrat, and state Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, issued a statement after O'Reilly's first show, explaining the state's position.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent and clear that, under the Constitution's First Amendment, once government admits one religious display or viewpoint onto public property, it may not discriminate against the content of other displays, including the viewpoints of nonbelievers," the statement said.
On Friday, some nonbelievers said they had very mixed feelings about the sign.
Michael Amini, a University of Washington student and president of the Secular Student Union, says he's glad to see nonbelievers represented among the Capitol displays. But he doesn't like the sign's wording, saying it's inflammatory and divisive.
"Right now, the atheists are the least trusted minority in the United States," said Amini, who believes the foundation should spend its time and money trying to show people that atheists are "decent people, rational and sane, with legitimate world views. This sign does not send that message."
Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president, said he intended the sign to be a little controversial — though he didn't expect this much.
"We thought our sign was pretty mild. But some people thought it was pretty hard-hitting," he said. "It's a criticism of religion. I think people like O'Reilly confuse criticism with hate speech."
All this hubbub threatened to overshadow what would otherwise be a big-deal wintertime moment in the Capitol: the annual lighting of the "Capitol Holiday Kids Tree" Friday. The tree, sponsored by the Association of Washington Business, is part of a charity drive.
There also will be a menorah in the Capitol this year, scheduled to go up on Dec. 21.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Religious display requests include one for The Flying Spaghetti Monster...
After a bizarre week -- a stolen atheist sign, a nativity scene constructed on the spot out of dozens of long balloons, the "Santa will take you to hell" sign -- applications for additional holiday displays at the statehouse continue to roll in.
A Kansas group, the KC Free Thinkers, now wants permission to put up a display celebrating a tongue-in-cheek deity named The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
In a similar vein, an Olympia man wants to erect a celebratory pole to honor the holiday Festivus, which was invented as part of a Seinfeld TV show episode in the late 1990s.
More serious is the application from a Bellevue mother named Mary Bernard. She's a longtime friend of a Catholic nun, Mother Antonia Brenner, who runs a prison ministry in Tijuana, Mexico.
Brenner heard of the controversy over the atheist sign – which declares that there are no gods, devils or angels – and asked Bernard to put up a “goodwill message.”
“To the Atheist Community,” the 30-inch by 40-inch sign would read. “May all be blessed with Joy and Happiness. We share with you our Peace and Love and Kindness. The Christian Community.”
Bernard said she hopes that common sense will prevail in the growing tussle among holiday displays.
“I know it's real volatile,” she said. “When it comes to their faith, people are real passionate about it.”
She said Brenner's message attempts to skirt that tension.
“She knows it's not about demonstrating or taking any kind of side,” Bernard said. “It's just to say we wish you joy and peace and kindness.”
Bonus round: One of the most interesting turns of phrase to emerge in this debate has been Sen. Pam Roach's Old-Testament-sounding description of the atheist sign: the placard of unbelievers.
Posted by Rich | 10 Dec 5:44 PM
Controversial Kansas "church" wants to erect "Santa Claus will take you to hell" sign at capitol...
The Westboro Baptist Church, an extremely controversial group that has made anti-gay messages its hallmark, is the latest group asking to place a holiday sign at the state capitol.
"Santa Claus will take you to hell," it begins.
The sign, the contents of which are posted below, says that "God's hate" is to blame for the weak economy, that Santa's a child molester and responsible for the death of U.S. troops.
All of which is very much in keeping with the church's tactic of spreading its anti-gay message with controversial signs at high-profile funerals and other events.
"We are writing to request the immediate placement of a sign "Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell," outside the Legislative Building of the Washington state legislature...in immediate proximity to the currently-placed nativity scene outside the same building and the `atheists's' posting of late," church pastor Fred W. Phelps wrote to Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning. "...This sign reflects the sincerely held religious beliefs and viewpoints on the topic that has been made a subject of public comment in this public forum, which viewpoint is well-grounded in scripture."
The sign, Phelps writes, is being express delivered to the capitol.
The governor's office confirmed that it's gotten the request, which it sent to the Department of General Administration to handle.
"Holy cow," said Steve Valandra, a spokesman for the department, reading a copy of the letter. "I guess we'll consider it, like all the other requests."
He said he couldn't yet say whether the sign will put up.
A week after an Olympia realtor erected a nativity scene in the capitol and a Wisconsin atheist group in response put up its sign denying that there is a god, the third floor of the state capitol has turned into a showplace for competing holiday messages from different groups. The atheist sign was stolen last week and quickly recovered by the state patrol, which this morning had a trooper keeping close watch on the displays in the capitol.
Valandra said the state has also received recent requests from a Kansas group representing the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a Christian woman in Bellevue who wants to erect a sign offering blessings on all people.
As a non-Christian, I will weigh in ...
I had actually typed out a lengthy response last night, but the stupid board timed me out and I lost it all :P
Okay, first of all, the Westboro Church? What a bunch of haters.
As far as the Freedom From Religion group, IMO their display was tactless and out of line. While I personally don't subscribe to any specific religion, and there are things about religion in general that I don't get, it is offensive and wrong to characterize all religions as having no redeeming value whatsoever. Because clearly, they do.
Sigh. I wish the atheists had chosen another way. I wish their sign had read something along the lines of "May all be blessed with Joy and Happiness. We share with you our Peace and Love and Kindness."
I have been volunteering for Catholic Community Services for the past couple of years, and it is one of the best things I have ever done (well, next to donating bone marrow to a complete stranger--for all I know, he was Muslim or a Scientologist or an illegal immigrant--get the picture?).
I hope this whole thing makes the state reconsider allowing public displays relating to religious holidays. And that next year we don't get a repeat of the controversy and foolishness. I can't think why our government should allow public displays celebrating any religion or religious holiday, b/c this is the result and it's never going to get any better; it's only going to get worse.
Flying Spaghetti Monster my arse.
This is all exactly my point...