Last year the Florida State Capitol Building became home to a Nativity scene, a Festivus Pole, three signs from atheist groups, and an homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster:
Mind you, the display was simply a depiction of a Bible passage, just like every Nativity scene, but the state’s guidelines were so hazy that it caused a lot of confusion.
That led to questions about what state officials would do this year. Would they allow all groups to have displays? Would they cut them all off entirely? Would they just (illegally) allow Christian displays?
Something had to change. But, since this is Florida, nothing did:
No reason was given by the Department of Management Services for holding pat on the display policy.
The application process was under review earlier this year, spurred by the diverse exhibits that dotted the Capitol rotunda during the holiday season.
Last month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Florida Department of Management Services on behalf of the Satanic Temple. Simply put, it said state officials could not deny the Satanists’ monument this year:
Given the manner in which the Department of Management Services rejected the Satanic Temple’s application last year, we remind the Department of its obligations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Department may not, as it did last year, reject the Satanic Temple’s display — even if the Department finds the display to be “offensive.” A rejection of the proposed display would violate the Free Speech Clause, Establishment Clause, and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Executive Director Rev. Barry W. Lynn added:
“Government officials have no right to determine what is ‘offensive’ when it comes to religion,” Lynn said. “If public space is open to all, that must include groups that some people may not like.”
As of today, it appears that state officials have come to their senses, knowing the legal predicament they’re in. AU just announced that the Satanists’ display will indeed be accepted:
In an email sent yesterday, state officials informed the Satanic Temple that its display may be erected Dec. 22-29.
“Although we are pleased that the state has finally agreed to allow the Satanic Temple’s display, our clients should not have been forced to find legal counsel and plan a lawsuit just to get access to an open forum,” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “The state can’t give itself the authority to decide whether certain religious messages are ‘offensive’ — it needs to allow everyone’s speech or no one’s speech.”
It’s frustrating how many hoops they had to jump through, but the display — the same one that was proposed last year — will be going up in a few weeks.
I’m sure Fox News will love this one…
I’ve asked The Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves for comment and will update this post when I hear back.
***Update***: Greaves said in an email to me:
While I am pleased that Florida has seen fit to finally respect plurality in its holiday displays, it’s curious to note that the display we submitted this year is the exact same from the year before. Last year, this display was rejected as “grossly offensive.” The only difference, it seems, is that this time around we came flanked with a cadre of lawyers. In any case, we appreciate the opportunity to wish a happy holiday season to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. The spirit of celebration cannot be monopolized. Let’s take an opportunity this season to put our differences aside and hope for a full and celebratory lives for all.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier.)