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Florida Capitol Will Display Satanic Diorama for Christmas

satanic-temple-christmas-di  Florida Capitol Will Display Satanic Diorama for Christmas satanic temple christmas diThe Satanic Temple scored a free-speech victory in its quest for equal representation among the Florida state capitol building’s religious-themed holiday displays. The Satanic Temple is set to celebrate with decorations at Florida’s Capitol this year.  The Satanic Temple — not to be confused with the Church of Satan, with which TST is not affiliated — describes its mission as “facilitating the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty,” as well as “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice. As an organized religion, we feel it is our function to actively provide outreach, to lead by example, and to participate in public affairs wheresoever the issues might benefit from rational, Satanic insights.” [5]  According to CBSMiami, among the nativity scenes and other presentations in the first floor rotunda will be a cotton and cardboard diorama of an angel falling into hell. [3] [6]  The Florida Department of Management Services this week approved a proposed holiday display from the Satanic Temple, which was rejected last year for being “grossly offensive.” [9]  [4] [15] [10] [11] The Temple’s display was the only one denied last year. According to Slate, in 2013 the state “allowed Christians, Jews, secular humanists, atheists, and Pastafarians [i.e., Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees] to construct testaments to their faith. [17]  The group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida claimed that free-speech right had been violated in denying the display. [4] When the display was denied last year, Greaves wrote to DMS, “It is not our intention to offend. Like the Nativity scene, it presents an image from a Biblical story, which is shared with other religious traditions besides our own. In addition, a positive sentiment of ‘Happy Holidays’ is displayed.” [4]  This year, the city officials obviously acted according to the popular saying “if you can’t beat ’em [in the so-called war on Christmas], join ’em.”  [2]  The temple, which threatened to sue after being rejected last year but never took action, is scheduled to put up its display on December 22 2014. [9] [18]  The New York-based group had sought legal advice on the placement of its display from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a non-partisan organization.

lucien  Florida Capitol Will Display Satanic Diorama for Christmas lucien

Lucien Greaves, spokesman for the Satanic Temple

Lucien Greaves, spokesman for the Satanic Temple, said in an email that “the difference seems to be in the fact that this time around we arrived with lawyers.”  [7] [3] The temple threatened to sue after being rejected last year but never took action. [3] [16] The state agency offered no explanation with its approval of the displays.  John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, deferred comment to the department.  “DMS makes the rules for the Capitol,” Tupps said. [3]  “We hope that, this holiday season, everybody can put their religious differences aside and respect that the celebratory spirit of responsible hedonism is available to all,” Greaves said in the email. [3] [6] [11] Lucien Greaves said in a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat. :

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Rev. Barry W. Lynn executive director of Americans United

The temple’s entry will be displayed in the first-floor rotunda of the Tallahassee Capitol for the end-of-year holiday period.  The approved display features a banner with the phrase “Happy Holidays From The Satanic Temple” atop a diorama of an angel falling into hell. On this “Satanic” work of art, we can read the following Bible quote: “How you are fallen from heaven, Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!” Isaiah 14:12. [7]  Florida’s Capitol building has become a veritable free-speech battle ground in recent years.  Such displays sit at a knotty juncture of two clauses of the First Amendment: the “free exercise clause,” which forbids the government from interfering with a person’s exercise of religion, and the “establishment clause,” which forbids the government from—here it gets controversial—setting up a state church, taking sides among religions, or preferring one religion or another.  On the one hand, if there’s a big cross on the steps of the state capitol, it can seem like the government is taking sides—or, in now-contested constitutional terms, endorsing a particular religion. Thus, in some places, all such displays were banned. Unfortunately, you can’t have one clause without the other. If the government is going to let some groups exercise their religion by placing displays on public property, they’ve got to let all groups do so. [13]  “Free speech is for everyone and all groups,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a statement. “State officials simply can’t get into the business of deciding that some unpopular messages are ‘offensive’ and must be banned.” [12]

The temple’s entry was one of five displays that got approval to be put up in the first-floor rotunda of the Capitol for the end-of-year holiday period.  Including the temple, a few other proposed displays will join the traditional Hanukkah menorah and Christmas trees in the first-floor rotunda of the Capitol. The Florida Prayer Network and the International House of Prayer Tallahassee will display Nativity scenes. “The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” which “worships” a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, was also approved for a display in the Capitol. A display for Festivus, a holiday invented “for the rest of us” by the sitcom Seinfeld, is pending approval, as are banners by American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.[2]  [8]

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Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network

Pam Olsen, who is president of the Florida Prayer Network and also submitted the application for an approved nativity scene for the International House of Prayer Tallahassee.  Her nativity scene is going up in the Capitol for the second time. She said her disappointment in the Satanic Temple display won’t deter her holiday spirit.  [1] She said that she doesn’t have a problem with the others putting up displays. [6]  However, she questioned the motives of people who again are putting up displays in reaction to the Florida Prayer Network’s introduction of a nativity scene into the Capitol last year. “You know what? It doesn’t shake God, and it is doesn’t shake me, and it doesn’t shake the people that are here to say that the nativity and Jesus Christ and Christ in Christmas mean so much to all of us,” Olsen said. “This is not a religious endorsement by our state government. It’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and we will all be up there,” Olsen said. “But are they really putting them up to wish everyone a happy holiday from the atheists and the Satanists, or are they up there to protest baby Jesus?” [8] Olsen told the Democrat that she rejects the idea that displays representing religious holidays in the Capitol are examples of “government-sponsored religion.” “Freedom of religion… makes America great,” said Olsen. “Our heart is not to cause any contention; it’s simply to say Merry Christmas. It’s really important that people understand that.” Talhassee Democrat reports that signs accompany the displays in the rotunda with the disclaimer “The State of Florida does not endorse or sponsor the views expressed by persons or displays in this area.” [4] [8]

How did the Florida Capitol, the symbol of the state’s exceedingly conservative governor and legislature, become the center of a constitutional showdown launched by Satanists? Surprisingly, the fault lies squarely with the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices. In their quest to let the government endorse and sponsor mainstream religion, they accidentally granted groups like the Pastafarians a constitutional right to force the government to advertise their beliefs.

church-of-the-flying-spaget  Florida Capitol Will Display Satanic Diorama for Christmas church of the flying spaget

In the Supreme Court’s quest to let the government endorse and sponsor mainstream religion, they accidentally granted groups like the Pastafarians a constitutional right to force the government to advertise their beliefs.

The seeds of the current Satanist showdown were planted back in 1984, when the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, argued that it had a right to fund blatantly religious Christmas displays using taxpayer money. Five conservatives on the Supreme Court agreed, holding that the First Amendment (which bars the government from making any laws “respecting an establishment of religion”) did not forbid the city from financing religious displays. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Warren Burger ruled that the image of Christ in a manger was merely a “celebration of a public holiday with traditional symbols” and thus served “legitimate secular purposes.” (When the dissenting justices pointed out that the court had placed deeply holy figures on the same spiritual level as “Santa’s house or reindeer,” Burger scoffed, “Of course this is not true.” He did not elaborate further on his reasoning.) [17]

Five years later, a similar issue reared its head after the city of Pittsburgh placed religious displays—including a Hanukkah menorah and a nativity scene—in the Allegheny County Courthouse. A badly splintered court ruled that the nativity scene endorsed Christianity in violation of the Establishment Clause, because an angel held a banner that proclaimed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (“Glory to God in the Highest”). The majority was also troubled by the scale of the nativity display; it was placed on the “grand staircase” of the courthouse, lending the impression that the city held it in special esteem. Six members of the court, however, ruled that the menorah didn’t unconstitutionally endorse religion. Placed outside the courthouse, next to a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty, the menorah was, in the eyes of the court, merely a celebration of “the winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society.”  The implicit message of the Allegheny case was that cities can allow, and even finance, religious displays on government property—as long as the city doesn’t appear to be favoring one religion over another. In most cities, these rulings have led to an all-comers policy; if officials permit every applicant to construct a religious display, after all, they can hardly be accused to preferring a specific religion. For a while, the policy was tacit and loose. Most cities probably assumed that they retained the ultimate right to refuse a religious display that strayed too far from their sense of decency. But then the Supreme Court stripped that right from them—in another ruling that was initially billed as a conservative victory.[17]

The case, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, dealt with a student who wanted UVA to give him money to print Christian magazines. The state university refused, insisting that its own rules forbade it from funding sectarian publications. But the five conservatives on the Supreme Court ruled that UVA’s decision violated the Christian student’s free speech rights. Once UVA decided to start funding student publications, such as newspapers and magazines, the court held, it had to fund all publications, regardless of the content. Rosenberger was a complicated case, but the upshot was simple: If the state opens a forum for a certain category of expression, it doesn’t get to choose who can express themselves or how they get to do it. Even if that expression conveys offensive ideas in an odious manner, the state can’t censor it. When Rosenberger first came down, many liberals saw it as a loophole through which Christians could obtain more government funding. It may well be—but it’s also the Satanic Temple’s best shot at getting its display in the Florida Capitol. State officials claim that, because they were generous enough to open up the space to religious groups in the first place, they retain the final authority over who gets to display what. Rosenberger says: absolutely not. If officials didn’t want the Satanic Temple erecting a display in the capitol rotunda, they shouldn’t have let religious groups in in the first place. Now that they’ve opened the gates, they have no right to stop the stampede. Under this set of conservative precedents, the fiercely Republican state government in Florida has essentially no legal argument against the Satanic Temple—or the Pastafarians, or any other professedly religious group that wants to tout its faith with a display in the state capitol. (In our post–Hobby Lobby legal landscape, even secular humanism is considered a religion, because secular humanists say it is.) The Supreme Court was supposed to guard the wall of separation between church and state. Instead, reactionary justices helped to tear it down. [17]

Powerless the legislate on the content of the displays, the only rules left are the following: Displays in the Capitol cannot impede traffic or block permanent installments like the Civil Rights or Veterans halls of fame. According to DMS’ guidelines, displays are limited to 6-feet in height. Displays will only be allowed to stand for seven days this year. The Nativity scene will go up for display from Dec. 15-22 ending right in time for the Satanic Temple’s display period from the 22-29.

[1] Garin Flowers, State approves Satanic Temple display at FL Capitol, WTSP, 2:39 p.m. EST December 10, 2014
[2] David Knowles, Satanic Temple Displays Go Up for the Holidays, Bloomberg, Dec 15, 2014 3:54 PM EST
[3] Satanic Temple Approved For Capitol Holiday Display, CBS Miami, December 4, 2014 11:02 AM
[4] Karl Etters, Satanic Temple again seeking approval of Capitol holiday display, Talhassee Democrat, 2:23 p.m. EDT October 8, 2014
[6] Eric Scheiner, Merry Christmas: Florida Capitol Will Display Satanic Diorama, CNSNews, December 5, 2014 – 9:42 AM
[7] Katie Zavadski, Florida’s Capitol Gets a Satanic Display for Christmas, NY Mag, December 3, 2014 5:47 p.m.
[9] Satanic display rejected at Florida Capitol, Click Orlando, Dec 24 2013 09:11:31 PM EST
[10] Sara Noble, Satanic Temple’s Hellish Display Approved in Florida’s Capitol for Christmas, Independent Sentinel, December 5, 2014
[12] Carol Kuruvilla,  Satanic Temple Wins Battle To Bring Lucifer Display Inside Florida State Capitol, The Huffington Post, 12/05/2014 1:31 pm EST
[13] Jay Michaelson, In Florida, ’Tis The Season for Satan, The Daily Beast, 12.07.14
[16] Jo-Carolyn Goode, Florida State Capital OKs Satanic Christmas Display , Houston Style Magazine, 12/15/2014, 1:43 p.m.
[17] Mark Joseph Stern, Devil’s Advocates, Slate, 2014/11

About Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace is a self-fashioned writter, a computer programmer and cybermarketer from Quebec City, Canada who decided to enter the political arena after his disillusionment with the socialist system under which he was living in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

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