Notorious Wisconsin Governor is calling a decorated pine tree put up in the state capitol a Christmas tree. He may have single-handedly ignited the War on Christmas 2011 in the process.
Walker said Monday that the evergreen decorated with ornaments and adorned with a star in the center of Wisconsin’s Capitol Rotunda is a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree as it’s been called for the past 25 years.
The roughly 30-foot-tall tree was called a Christmas tree from the first display in 1916 until 1985. That’s when politicians bowed to concerns about government endorsing religion and started referring to it as a holiday tree.
The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has opposed the term Christmas tree, saying it offends nonreligious people and amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.
The president of that group, Annie Laurie Gaylor, called Walker’s decision rude and insensitive to non-Christians.
“The reason that it was turned into a holiday tree was to avoid this connotation that the governor chooses one religion over another,” she said. “It’s essentially a discourtesy by the governor to announce that. He intends that to be a slight and a snub to non-Christians, otherwise he would not do it.”
Walker, in a press release, downplayed any potential controversy by simply referring to the decoration as a Christmas tree and not noting any change. His spokesman Cullen Werwie confirmed that the designation and change from past practices was intentional.
“It’s a Christmas tree,” Werwie said. “In all honesty, I don’t know what more to say about it.”
The controversy over the name of the tree has ebbed and flowed over the years. In 2007, the state Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution to change the name to the Christmas tree, but it died in the Senate.
In past years, displays from a variety of religions have been set up in the Capitol rotunda during the holiday season including a menorah and a sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation which calls religion “superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
The tree will be decorated with ornaments submitted by the state’s school children. On display from late November through early January, the tree is encircled by a model train and is a popular stop for school groups and other tourists.