Help Washington State Ban Displays of Faith in the Capitol Building September 27, 2009

Help Washington State Ban Displays of Faith in the Capitol Building

Remember when the Freedom From Religion Foundation created a media firestorm after putting up a pro-atheist plaque next to a nativity scene in the Washington state Capitol building last Winter?

Everyone wanted a symbol of their faith allowed in the building after that and officials had to put a moratorium on further displays.

This year, those officials do not want to see this all happen again.

Last month, they issued a temporary ruling on the matter, banning such displays.

Now, they’re trying to make it permanent:

Under the proposed rules, display or exhibits could not be placed in the public areas of buildings on the Capitol campus, except for a state-sponsored “holiday” tree in the rotunda.

At a public hearing Tuesday, some argued that the rules violated free speech rights. Others testified in support of the rules, saying they didn’t want to see a repeat of last year, when protests erupted over competing private holiday displays.

How can you help?

The state has a section on their website where they discuss current rules and invite comments from the public. The period for offering comments has been extended (PDF) until Thursday, October 1st.

You can make a comment here.

Let state officials know that you want to see NO display of anyone’s faith (including atheists) in the Capitol building. The government must either endorse no belief system or allow for all beliefs systems to host their own display. The latter would lead to chaos as it did last year. The state officials and the citizens of Washington would be much better off simply banning such displays. If Christians want to put up a nativity scene, let them do it on their own property, in their own homes.

(Thanks to Wendy for the link!)

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  • echoecho

    This actually makes me sad. I think holiday displays that admit a profusion of faiths and opinions are a beneficial illustration of the ability of people to live peacefully together – even when there are vast disagreements as to how the world does or should work. Having them in popular public spaces emphasizes that co-existence is possible, and that violence and/or exile is not an appropriate response to discovering that someone believes differently than you.

    In a country where it’s easier to get elected if you’re gay than it is if you’re an atheist, I think having the atheist displays sitting alongside the faith displays is a symbol of the inclusion and “belonging” of the atheist population in the culture.

    But the atheist sign in Washington was in poor taste – “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” It was a sign designed to piss on the other displays present, to essentially pick a fight.

    I would much prefer that the Washington government allow all belief systems to host their own displays on the capitol lawn. Let there be a chaos of displays. If there are too many, let people draw lots each year, so that everyone has a fair chance to cram in beside everyone else and stand together.

  • Shannon

    I agree with echoecho. I think it would be great if anyone could put up a display, atheists included, side by side. If they are willing to front the costs themselves of course (not having the state pay for it).

    I don’t see that happening though, so banning all is probably better.

    I also agree that the atheist plaque I saw was rather negative and they could have found something nicer to put up.

    Though (we already hashed this out on another thread) I still don’t agree that a “holiday tree” is non-religious but that’s me.

  • Washington state then went on to pass laws supporting the right to free speech, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right not to self incriminate.

    Seriously, we already have a federal law covering this hogwash, why do we need state law too? This is a governmental building (state) and a religious icon (church). Separate ’em!

  • Miko

    You say “chaos” like that’s a bad thing.

  • Sackbut

    I don’t see anything wrong with religious holiday displays. I do, however, see something wrong with religious holiday displays on government property. Government is not supposed to show favoritism toward any religion, and allowing all comers is not only ridiculous but likely to be offensive. Popular public places is one thing, government property is another.

    It is worth reading Trina Hoaks’ essay on how she missed the point of the sign. The sign on the Capitol grounds was intentionally provocative, because it was aimed at making a point about church-state separation. The FFRF placed other more “jolly” signs elsewhere around town.

  • BrettH

    Thanks for posting that link, Sackbut. I still don’t like what the FFRF did there though. I think this quote from Gaylor is pretty much where my problem is: “Our purpose wasn’t to promote the winter solstice or atheist views about Xmas.” The problem is that every other display there WAS there to promote a positive holiday message and spread the views of a cultural or religious group about their favorite winter holiday. Even though to outcome was a positive one, the tactics used to achieve it. Getting religion out of the capital by being a mean spirited jackass is going to make it a bit harder next time someone tries to argue against the mistaken believe that atheists are selfish and immoral. I would have preferred if the FFRF or a group like it just encouraged everyone they knew to but up their own displays about the FSM, atheism, Yoda, etc. They would have had to ban religious displays just to make sure they still had room to use the capitol building for governing.

    (I’m an atheist living in Washington, just for the record.)

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    GM: Atheistgal
    Officer: Pharyngula
    Officer: Blastula (non-other than the tentacled one himself)

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  • muggle

    Done. This is what I commented:

    “The capital should make all citizens welcome. To display religious icons alienates and divides. The only solution is to remain neutral as the Constitution asks government to do. This is not hostile to religion. Making a statement that there is no God would be hostile to religion and just as wrong as displays of Christianity or any other religion. Saying nothing is the no comment position.”

    I admit I sent it anomyously.

    As for displays of all religions being cohesive, not on public grounds, they’re not. In their own homes, places of worship, schools, etc., they are. My city has a large Catholic hospital right next to our largest synagogue. Not only is it beautiful every December when they have Christmas trimmings, including a manger scene and the synagogue has a large lit menorah, it makes me feel American to see it and good to be here. A creche at the post office or town hall has the opposite affect. Makes me feel excluded and outcast.

    Sigh, now if only more places besides Madison had Freethought Halls so we could have blending of some reason’s greetings displays too.

  • selfification

    I saw comments along the lines of “It’s government property — not some public space”. Guys… “government property” *is* public space. Free speech is *especially* important in public space. Now, it is entirely reasonable to say “We have had too much commotion in this building and it affected government officers’ ability to work. Hence, no displays”. After all, you don’t have some inherent right to go party in the state capitol. The “its religion — keep it out of the state” statement is kind of nonsensical (or atleast, shortsighted). The constitution adopts a policy of nondiscrimination, not abstinence. It would be just as silly to requiring government workers to not have public religious beliefs.

    Personally, I would want to see celebrations and holiday displays on the capitol. Its a great way to celebrate the solstice. Simply have each group fund their own “booth” or display and enforce crowd control using the fire code and other business regulations. This way, when the capitol run out of room to put up displays, it’s not an act of discrimination. It is simply an application of safety procedures. If groups feel that the safety code was applied unjustly, this can be argued in a court of law.

  • TXatheist

    Thanks for the heads up on this Hemant, love to be an activist.

  • Heidi

    The “its religion — keep it out of the state” statement is kind of nonsensical (or atleast, shortsighted). The constitution adopts a policy of nondiscrimination, not abstinence. It would be just as silly to requiring government workers to not have public religious beliefs.

    What is ridiculous is trying to equate someone’s personal beliefs, practiced on their own time, with public displays in government buildings.

  • echoecho

    Hemant says: The government must either endorse no belief system or allow for all beliefs systems to host their own display. The latter would lead to chaos as it did last year.

    Sackbut says: and allowing all comers is not only ridiculous but likely to be offensive.

    I disagree. I can see how that particular sign would certainly have caused chaos – it’s only reasonable that a sign designed to pick a fight would, well, get a fight. Not to mention all kinds of crazy-hijinks on the capital lawn.

    But letting many faiths and opinions be represented on the lawn, and installing a lottery system if there proved to be too many requests for space, would be a fair way to be non-discriminatory without eliminating the holiday displays.

    If this were done beforehand, and explained rationally, rather than created in the middle of a controversy, people would be less likely to game the system, because it would be more likely to be seen as fair.

    The sign was mean-spirited and did more harm than good. I think this would have been a time when a more positive message would have been more powerful, and left everyone who came to the capitol with the impression that the state, as a community that included atheists, was enjoying the holiday season and hoping they were too.

  • I would, but I do not live in Washington and I think that a letter to Governor Ritter might not have the same impact, even if I do cite the problem in Washington.

  • Spiritual

    You know, at least a Nativity Scene doesen’t mock people’s beliefs in some plaq. Self-satisfied, smug little shits. Apparently you people are smarter than everyone else for being atheist.

    By the way, if Government Property is Public Property: Send a letter to the White House. Take out that Christmas Tree. The Obama’s just recieved their Christmas Tree. Well the Christmas Tree has pre-christian spiritual connotations, as well as the fact that “Christmas Tree” has the name Christ in it. Write a letter to the White House. Be sure to remind the Obama’s that they live on PUBLIC Property. Tell them to take down that tree!

    Then write a letter to any US Military members who lives on a Military base. Be sure to remind the Base Exchange, base housing, and all those that decide to display holiday decor: THAT IS PUBLIC PROPERTY. YOU CANNOT DO THIS!

    Then satisfy yourself with thoughts of activism, and mocking religion. Then realize you are smarter than everyone else in the world, because: you are Atheist. Good job! Smug shits.

  • Anonymous

    Atheists aren’t trying to mock religion when putting up a display, nor are we trying to act more intelligent than any other religion. It states in the first amendment of The Constitution that a government cannot endorse a particular religion, so if a government building has a display for one religion but doesn’t allow others to have one, it is unconstitutional. As for the president and military members, those people are actually living there, which makes it okay. If the Obama’s want to put up a display for their own family, or if the military members want to have a display for themselves, that is acceptable, because it is their home, and it isn’t a display put up by the general public or an outside group. Atheists are not attempting to mock religion, offend people, or even earn special rights, we are trying to earn equal access, not act better than anyone else.

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