Baby Jesus won't be joined by beer cans or a Flying Spaghetti Monster for the holidays in Tallahassee this year.
The past few years have seen the Florida Capitol rotunda festooned with displays by religious groups and atheists during the holidays. But the group that first erected a display of a Nativity scene has decided to not put one up this year.
The Florida Prayer Network, which submitted an application to the state to put up a manger scene the past two years on behalf of the International House of Prayer Tallahassee, has decided not to do so this year over what it considers to be mocking displays by other groups — most prominently, a Festivus Pole made of beer cans submitted by an atheist activist and a display of Lucifer's fall from heaven by the Satanic Temple.
Florida Prayer Network President Pam Olsen says the decision to not participate came from what the group considers an oversaturation of other groups putting up displays that mocked their original intent.
"We have been praying about this for for a while, trying to decide how to stand for religious freedom in the public square in the midst of the mocking displays, which would only get worse," Olsen says.
But Olsen says the ultimate decision came after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last week.
"We looked back over this year and realized that what our country needs is to return to loving one another and being kind," she says. "As a Christian, I know our only hope is Jesus and the message of his birth is love and goodwill to man. I didn't want the mocking war on Christmas at a time we should be grieving and examining our hearts and seeing how we can be the solution to a country in deep trouble."
The Florida Prayer Network announced its decision and its reasons via an open letter. Meanwhile, Chaz Stevens — the man behind the Festivus Pole of beer cans that would be displayed next to the Nativity scene in the rotunda — remains defiant over Olsen's reasoning.
"Pardon me, but where was the voice of that Christ child as the Catholic clergy raped thousands of our children?" Stevens says. "How come this Christ child has stood idly by and watched the full assault on women’s rights and the gay community?"
Stevens, who recently declared a "gay war on Christmas," says he wants to expand his putting up a Festivus Pole to more than just Florida.
"We’re erecting in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Florida," he tells New Times. "Awaiting approvals from all."
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Stevens' Festivus Pole display in the rotunda was soon followed by a group that put up a Flying Spaghetti Monster display and by the Satanic Temple's display, although that group was initially met with resistance. But the state eventually relented and allowed it to put up its display, which was a depiction of the fall of Lucifer.
"In a nation that respects religious liberty, viewpoint discrimination is simply intolerable," a Satanic Temple spokesperson told New Times. "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."
Olsen and the Florida Prayer Group, however, saw the Festivus Pole and Satanic Temple displays as mocking and divisive.
"I am a defender of faith in the public square, but this is just not the year for a war of displays in the rotunda," she says. "It's time for much prayer, but there is even a war on prayer by some members of the media."