Washington State ends 'holiday' display mayhem in its capitol

The OlympianDecember 13, 2008 

Washington state officials placed a moratorium late Friday on permitting any more holiday displays inside the Capitol this year.

An atheists' sign placed near a Nativity scene sparked a controversy after commentators on Fox News drew attention to it. Afterward, Gov. Chris Gregoire's office was flooded with nearly 15,000 phone calls from people nationwide who opposed the sign.

The moratorium in effect denies space to several requests, including one for a sign that says "Santa Claus will take you to Hell" and a "Festivus" pole. Festivus is a mock holiday popularized by the "Seinfeld" sitcom in the 1990s.

A lack of space and a need to rework policy were the reasons for the decision, said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the state Department of General Administration.

The moratorium affects at least five pending requests for displays, and none will be allowed this year, Valandra said. But a previously approved request to display a menorah will be allowed to go up Dec. 21.

"The moratorium applies to pending and any future applications for exhibits and displays. It will remain in effect until General Administration completes a review of its current policy for exhibits and displays for the Legislative Building," a statement issued by GA said.

"General Administration made the decision on a display moratorium after receiving a greater number of applications than it had anticipated and that reasonably can be accommodated in the display area set aside on the third floor of the Legislative Building," the statement added.

GA director Linda Bremer made the decision and Gregoire's office agreed with it, Valandra said. The decision also was reviewed by the Attorney General's Office.

The decision came a day after a formal application from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which asked to include a message that included references to Santa, rape and "God's hate." Other requests that will be rejected under the moratorium is a Kansas group's request for a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" display, which is meant as a parody of creationism; a Buddhist request for a display; and a Christian goodwill message to atheists.

Conservative Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly criticized Gregoire over GA's decision to allow the atheists' sign, claiming it was an insult, and other reactions followed. Three signs with messages that include criticism or mockery of atheism also have been permitted next to the atheism display, which was stolen last week, then returned.

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