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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Nativity scene, Festivus pole and atheists ... but no Satanist display for the Capitol

19

December

Religious holiday symbols are nothing new to Florida's Capitol; Christmas trees and a menorah during Hanukkah are tradition.

But one overtly Christian display has launched a firestorm of free speech activity this year. The Florida Prayer Network erected a Nativity scene in the rotunda on Dec. 2. A second group pledged to add a tribute to the Three Wise Men at a later date.

Probably anticipating complaints of religious favoritism, the state's Department of Management Services that oversees public buildings issued a notice to media saying the religious display was approved because it met guidelines for use of state property and was free speech protected by the First Amendment. By doing so, the state essentially opened the floodgates for other religious or anti-religion displays. (Full photo gallery after the jump.)

So far, DMS has approved posters from two atheist groups, a "Happy Winter Solstice" banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a Festivus pole by an athiest using the holiday made popular in a "Seinfeld" episode to push for separation of church and state.

There is also the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Pastafarians, who have fake noodles in a chair. The religion was created to highlight opposition to the "intelligent design" theory some Christians have pushed in public schools.

So far, only one group's winter display has been denied: the Satanists' proposed poster was deemed "grossly offensive" by DMS.

Here is more from the News Service of Florida about the Santanists being turned down and the other Capitol displays:

The state Department of Management Services on Wednesday denied an attempt by "Satanists" to put up a display in the Florida Capitol, which currently showcases a Nativity scene, a Festivus pole made of beer cans, posters from atheists, and a crudely-made Flying Spaghetti Monster.

"The department’s position is that your proposed display is grossly offensive during the holiday season," DMS Administrative Assistant Sherrie K. Routt emailed a group calling itself the Satanic Temple.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple, said in an email the group was "surprised and dismayed" by the rejection. However, before possibly challenging the decision, the temple is seeking clarification from DMS as it had initially been advised the display had been approved and that "written confirmation is forthcoming," Greaves said.

The group initially requested putting up a 5-foot-by-5-foot poster that featured "religious symbols and images" on Dec. 9. In the application, the group explained that the public service intended was to "contribute to the plurality of the community by representing the spirit of good will from other faiths." The group would later send DMS a photo of the proposed display that bannered the phrase "Happy holidays from the Satanic Temple" atop a diorama of an angel falling into hell. A sign on one side of the display referenced Luke 10:18 including the line, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."

After the Florida Prayer Network's Christian Nativity scene was set up in the first floor of the Capitol on Dec. 3, DMS has approved requests for space in the rotunda for a 6-foot-tall "Festivus" pole made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans by South Florida political blogger Chaz Stevens and seasonal signs from the Tallahassee Atheists, The American Atheists Florida Regional Directors and the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Also, on Tuesday, the department approved a display that included an office chair and shredded paper depicting spaghetti for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Last January, the "Satanists" drew about six of the self-professed devil worshippers to the steps of the Old Capitol for what they said was an event to praise Gov. Rick Scott --- but that was reported to be part of an effort to make a fake documentary.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 3:45pm]

    

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