The Florida Department of Management Services can't ban the Satanic Temple's holiday display from the state Capitol rotunda just because ot thinks it's offensive, says watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
On Wednesday, the group sent state officials a letter warning them that they must not keep the Satanic Temple from putting up its display, as they did last year.
"Members of the religious majority are sometimes offended by the beliefs of religious minorities, and vice/versa," the letter says. "But the Satanic Temple is not required to censor itself in order to take advantage of a forum supposedly open to all."
Last year, the Satanic Temple had requested and was granted a space in the rotunda to put up a display for the holidays. The display would have gone up next to a Nativity scene, an atheist "spaghetti monster," and a festivus pole.
But the Department of Management Services went back on its word and rejected the Satanic Temple's entry as "grossly offensive for the holidays."
The display, which met all the official requirements, showed the angel Lucifer falling from the heavens with a Scripture from the Book of Isaiah on the side. The top of the display read, "Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple."
The group wrote emails to the department and made phone calls to get an explanation to what was found offensive about its display but never received a response. The deadline passed, and the temple was unable to put up its display.
Last week, the group resubmitted its request for the same exact display to be put up in the state Capitol. And it's gotten the backing of Americans United.
"Government officials have no right to determine what is 'offensive' when it comes to religion," says the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director, via a news release Wednesday morning. "If public space is open to all, that must include groups that some people may not like."
The Satanic Temple, which is a religious organization "dedicated to principles of empathy, personal autonomy and empirical reasoning," says it submitted its entry early this year to be sure it doesn't get caught up in red tape and missed calls.
"In a nation that respects religious liberty, viewpoint discrimination is simply intolerable," Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves says. "Our holiday display sends a very important, affirmative message that goes above and beyond that of superficial season's greetings. It's a message of religious freedom and church/state separation expressed in the state's neutrality."
Americans United, meanwhile, calls the case a free-speech issue.
"Any rejection of the Satanic Temple's display based on its potential offensiveness would constitute viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause," their letter reads. "In addition, the policy provision banning 'offensive' speech is unconstitutional on its face, because it gives the Department unfettered discretion to suppress unpopular messages."
The letter requests a response from the Department of Management Services within 14 days.
You can read the letter in its entirety below: