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.