Illinois Capitol Building Taking All Comers This Christmas

The rotunda of the Illinois Capitol is poised to once again become home to various religious and civic displays this Christmas.

Last year, a private group was given approval to place a nativity scene on the main floor of the Statehouse.

That move sparked others to apply for nearby space to display symbols, ranging from a Jewish menorah to a simple aluminum pole honoring the fictitious holiday of “Festivus.”

The result: State workers and visitors to the Capitol were greeted with an obstacle course of displays.

Earlier this month, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee — the same group that placed the nativity scene in the building in 2008 — was again given permission from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to erect the display beginning Nov. 30.

Dan Zanoza, a Lincoln resident who spearheaded the nativity scene last year, said he hopes this year’s display will spur others to erect religious displays in public buildings across the nation.

“I believe in the First Amendment and I believe in freedom of speech,” Zanoza said.

White’s office is responsible for issuing permits to groups who desire to participate in a public forum inside Illinois’ state Capitol building. He grants permission as long as the displays meet certain guidelines.

The nativity scene apparently won’t be alone again this year.

White spokesman Henry Haupt said the American Civil Liberties Union also has received permission to place a tabletop display of the First Amendment in December.

Last year, a group of atheists based in Madison, Wis., also erected a display.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sign read, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world.”

Zanoza said he is considering making a push to erect a nativity in the Wisconsin Capitol, but said he’s hoping someone in that state takes up the cause.

Last year’s controversy came with a tinge of humor when a Springfield teenager received permission last year to erect a “Festivus” pole next to the other displays.

Festivus is an outgrowth of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld.” Character George Costanza’s angry dad created the fake holiday. Revelers gathered around an aluminum pole and couldn’t leave until someone pinned the head of the household to the floor.

Atheist Campaign to Hijack Christmas Launching

It is already a top-40 bestseller on Amazon — and it won’t publish until later this week. But the PR machine has been working overtime as atheists have learned that attacking Christmas is both lucrative and great for publicity. This week they launch their “Atheist Guide to Christmas” with an included essay from the grand poobah of atheism himself, Richard Dawkins.

On the surface it sounds absurd: folks who disclaim God claim Christmas for themselves. But it is not the first time absurdity made for world-wide headlines and a little extra jingle in the pocket. And besides, this is the same movement espousing the thought that “everything came from nothing”. We’re not exactly talking about the brightest bulbs on the tree here.

Atheist activists spend countless resources in high-profile settings mocking and attacking those who claim religion. Christmas is a raw nerve that presents plenty of opportunities. Christmas 2008 saw atheists stake a claim in the State capitol building in Washington state to openly — and legally — mock those who celebrate with sacred intent. On busses in London and on billboards in Washington they launched an ad campaign encouraging merry making at Christmas but skipping the worship of God.

Yep, our atheist friends just love Christmas.

What happened to the good old days when they locked themselves away on Black Friday, refusing to engage with holiday shoppers? What happened to those principled souls who decried the commercialism of Christmas as hypocrisy?

If you can’t beat them, join them, I guess.

Like the Grinch, they want it all. The Christmas Tree, they will say, isn’t Christian. It belongs to the ungodly. The wreath, the bell, mistletoe, eggnog and even jolly old Santa himself are all secular symbols with nary a religious connection between them.

Look out Christmas lovers, Atheists are taking over Christmas. With them there are no wise men, there was no manger and no angels were heard on high.

Your Christmas is about to be hijacked. Look to CNN for more details soon — guaranteed.

Public Outcry Intensifies in Washington State Over Nativity Ban

A heated debate took place at the state Capitol on Tuesday, but no lawmakers were involved.

The debate was based on what can and cannot be displayed during the holiday season.

Last season a nativity scene displayed inside the Capitol sparked the addition of an atheist sign, which, in turn, sparked a big protest.

This year, no holiday displays will be allowed in the rotunda except for the now-renamed “holiday tree.”

But not everyone is happy with the latest plan, and many had plenty to say at Tuesday’s public hearing.

“You’re kind of shutting 95 percent of Washingtonians that celebrate Christmas,” said nativity scene sponsor Ron Wesselius.

“We don’t need a repeat of last year’s holiday display embarrassment. Though we support free speech, we all learned the potential hazards of an open public forum,” said Dennis Mansker of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Even though indoor displays are prohibited, outdoor displays are more than welcome with a permit. And some worry that invitation will turn into an even bigger problem.

“Such displays would result in uncontrollable proliferation that would inevitably consume large amounts of space,” said Olympia resident Bob Jacobs.

The rotunda Christmas tree is a long-standing tradition. But last year an atheist group cried foul when a private group added a nativity scene to the display.

The atheists were then allowed to put up a sign with an anti-religious message. And that sparked a national debate when Bill O’Reilly called on his viewers to bombard the governor’s phone line with complaints.

The controversy spawned other grievances, as well as requests to display other pro-religious signs and even a “Festivus pole,” a reference to the TV show “Seinfeld.”

Then the atheist sign disappeared, only to be dropped off at a Seattle radio station.

In the end, it all boiled over into a large demonstration on the Capitol steps, and General Administration Office banned all holiday displays except for the tree.

The General Administration Office will take all the public testimony to help determine a permanent policy for holiday displays — one that may or may not be ready by this holiday season.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Threatened School Board

The school board in Petroskey, Michigan publicly blamed one of their own for refusing to change their “Winter Break” to “Christmas Break”. But in reality, it was contact from the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” that sealed the deal.

On August 18th, 2009, the board unamimously voted to change “Winter Break” to “Christmas Break”. It was a done deal. There was no outcry from the public, no debate and no controversy.

Then the Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in with a letter claiming that the school board had violated the U.S. Constitution and threatening legal action.

The school board couldn’t run away from the controversy fast enough. In an age where schools fight for every penny to fund themselves the power of the money — or the potential loss of it — does more to dictate policy than anything else.

I wonder what the bullying policy is in Petroskey schools. Maybe they need one after showing no backbone to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the students and parents they serve.

Michigan School Board Won’t Change Winter to Christmas

School boards across America have debated whether to call a holiday break period “Winter Break” versus “Christmas Break”. But a school district in Petoskey, Michigan claims that even though Christmas is a national holiday and they legally can change the name of the break they won’t simply because the school board treasurer wrote an email with religious undertones in favor of the move.

“Upon reviewing the legality of this change in light of Mr. Waldvogel’s email of August 10th, 2009 it is the opinion of this Board, along with legal counsel, that the School District would not be successful in court if challenged. The ability or right to change the wording is not at issue. It is well settled that schools have the right to refer to the break as Christmas. Christmas is a federal holiday and the vacation period can be named as such as has been traditionally accepted. However, it is also well established that government actions (including Public School Boards) must have a secular purpose for their actions (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971)). The change to “Christmas Break” cannot be initiated or driven based on religious agenda.

This has got to be the single most creative cop out in the history of school boards fighting Christmas. Since when does a school board treasurer dictate board policy?

Texas Won’t Mess with Christmas

Christmas will stay in Texas textbooks, State Board of Education members said Thursday while reviewing early recommendations for new social studies standards after pubic outcry over dropping Christmas in a Worlds Religions course for the study of Diwali (a custom observed by some Hindus and Buddhists).

The board will not approve the new curriculum standards for public schools until next year, but wanted to assure constituents they will not accept a recommendation to yank Christmas.

“We have heard quite significant feedback from parents, from people who are very disturbed that we are not going to continue keeping Christmas in our standards. No one on this board intends to take out Christmas,” said Gail Lowe, of Lampasas, chair of the 15-member board.

Christmas Tensions Rising in London, Disney to Blame?

The actions of a militant anti-Christmas group in London who in recent weeks vandalized merchants marketing Christmas cards too soon have many worried about the marketing efforts of the Walt Disney Company in their push to promote their latest version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol — and what those efforts might do to set off the anti-Christmas crowd.

The London newspaper The Independent is critically reporting that Mayor Boris Johnson has sold out to Disney by allowing them to change long-standing tradition and turn on the famous Christmas lights and decorations of London’s west side on the day the movie premieres. Disney has also some how managed to convince the city to go with a Scrooge theme to their holiday decor this year, just to make the marketing exploitation complete.

The further advancement of Christmas-before-its-time has some worried that the vandalism — and perhaps, violence — will get worse.

New Jersey School Ban on Christmas Music Headed to Court

Arguments are set to begin in a federal appeal seeking to reverse a New Jersey school district’s policy that banned the performance of religious music in the district’s public schools. Opponents of the ban claim it singles out Christian traditions for disapproval and hostility.

Robert Muise, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, will argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia on September 14, the Law Center reports.

Muise noted that Christmas is a national holiday and described religious music in the public schools as “one of the rich traditions of this season.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Michael Stratechuk, who sued on his own and on behalf of his two children, who are students in the South Orange-Maplewood School District in New Jersey. The suit alleges that the ban is an impermissible government-sponsored message of disapproval of and hostility towards religion, violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Further, the suit claims that the ban deprives Karl and Kurt Stratechuk of the right to receive information and ideas. The Law Center describes this right as an “inherent corollary” of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom.

The Thomas More Law Center charges that the school district’s 2004 ban was specifically aimed at preventing Christmas music, including simple instrumentals, during the traditional year-end holiday concerts. Traditional Christmas music has been performed at these concerts for over 60 years.

“Those that are hostile to these traditions hide behind the mantle of ‘tolerance,’ only to promote intolerance,” Muise commented. “We learn to understand and respect traditions, customs, and beliefs not by being offended or threatened by the traditions of others, but by understanding the meaning of such traditions and why they have the capacity to inspire.”

According to the Law Center, the disputed school district policy was featured in Fox News anchor John Gibson’s book “The War on Christmas

Texas Removing Christmas from Curriculum

A proposal for a new social studies curriculum for Texas public schools removes the word “Christmas” in a sixth-grade lesson.

Jonathan Saenz is a lobbyist for the conservative Free Market Foundation, calls it “outrageous that the war on Christmas continues in our state and in our nation.” He contends removing “Christmas” from the curriculum is an “effort to mislead students about current society.”

The draft proposal being considered by the State Board of Education removes the word Christmas in a section on culture. The section now instructs students to explain the significance of religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The proposal deletes Christmas and adds Diwali, a Hindu festival.

State of Washington Wants Nothing to Do with Christmas

After suffering the indignity of national media exposure last Christmas the great state of Washington is calling everyone out of the pool for Christmas 2009. Nobody will be celebrating any of their beliefs at the capitol this Christmas. Last year was just too much, they say.

For years the capitol building has hosted a nativity scene every holiday season without incident. But when the Freedom from Religion Foundation knocked on their door in 2008 it brought with them lots of media exposure as they placed a sign in the very shadows of the Baby Jesus, Mary and the Magi which read: “At this season of the Winter Solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Allowed inside the state Capitol in Olympia this coming winter: a holiday tree. (No Christmas trees, though).

Not allowed: a Nativity scene, an atheist sign, a “Seinfeld”-inspired Festivus pole and other displays sponsored by private organizations.

The department that oversees the Capitol grounds announced an interim policy on displays, a response to the furor that erupted last year after an atheist group put up an anti-religion sign next to a Nativity scene in the Capitol.

The policy, which took effect today, does not allow any nongovernmental displays in any building on Capitol grounds. But it does allow such displays outside, on campus grounds.

“We want to preserve everyone’s right to free expression. We just want to make sure we manage things better than they went last year,” said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the Department of General Administration.

The policy applies to any private organization or individual, not just religious — or atheist — groups.