After being rebuffed by officials last holiday season, the Satanic Temple has been given the green light to erect its holiday display in the Florida Capitol rotunda this year.
According to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Florida's Department of Management Services has agreed to allow the temple's display to be put up, reversing its stance from last year, when officials called the display "grossly offensive."
Last year, other groups' displays were allowed to be erected, including a Nativity scene, a Festivus pole made from beer cans, and a spaghetti monster sculpture.
Undeterred, the temple resubmitted a request to have its display put up this holiday. The group submitted its request in early October to avoid similar confusion as last year.
Last year, the group had also submitted a request with ample time and was even given the OK to go forward.
The temple said it went through the required channels and applied for a five-foot-by-five-foot square of the rotunda to put up its display, which depicted the scene from Isaiah 14:12, which reads: "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!"
But days after getting permission to put up the display, the group received an email from the Department of Management Services saying it was no longer eligible to put it up due to the display being "grossly offensive for the holidays," according to the email.
"I wrote an email asking for clarification," Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves told New Times last year. "Hours later, I called and left a voice-mail. We were perplexed."
The Department of Management Services never returned Greaves' phone calls or emails. Soon after, the deadline for putting up a display had passed and the Satanic Temple's attempts at putting up the display in time for the holidays were unsuccessful.
But this year, with the help from religious liberty watchdog Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Satanic Temple submitted another request.
Americans United sent a letter to Florida officials explaining that another rejection of the temple's display would violate the Satanic Temple's freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to equal protection under the law.
So while Americans United welcome the news of Florida officials giving the Satanic Temple the go-ahead this holiday season, it's still wary of what the department pulled last year. The group says Florida officials' calling the display "grossly offensive" remains a constitutional issue. Americans United says it's ready to file a lawsuit should officials once again change their mind.
"Although we are pleased that the state has finally agreed to allow the Satanic Temple's display, our clients should not have been forced to find legal counsel and plan a lawsuit just to get access to an open forum," AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper said via an AU news release. "The state can't give itself the authority to decide whether certain religious messages are 'offensive' -- it needs to allow everyone's speech or no one's speech."
Grieves echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.
"We're happy that Florida has finally approved our holiday display, avoiding a tedious legal battle," he tells New Times. "It should be noted, however, that the display is exactly the same as that which was rejected last year as 'grossly offensive.' The only difference seems to be that this time we arrived with a cadre of lawyers."
The Bible's chapter and verse that inspired the Satanic Tempe display is often interpreted as Satan's "birth," when he's cast down to the Earth -- a clear juxtaposition of the birth of Jesus. It's also a well-known Scripture among other religions.
But it's a biblical scene, nonetheless. And, the AU argues, it should be allowed to be put up next to the other religious displays, as long as it meets the measurements criteria.
"The spirit of celebration can never be monopolized," Greaves says. "Religious differences aside, if there's fun to be had, let's have it. Let this season be a time in which we put our differences aside in the pursuit of happiness."
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