Nearly a year after state officials barred a Christmas Nativity scene from the Washington State Capitol Rotunda — drawing criticism from conservatives, including Fox News television talk-show host Bill O’Reilly, who equated such efforts in Washington and around the country with a liberal plot — the state has agreed to allow Ron Wesselius to display such a scene on behalf of citizens who celebrate Christmas.
With help from the Christian advocacy group Alliance Defense Fund, Wesselius filed suit last year after state officials denied his request to set up the Christian scene but allowed a Jewish menorah and a “holiday tree” to be displayed.
The state settled the suit and allowed the display.
“It’s incredible to think that Americans have to think twice about whether it is OK to celebrate Christmas in public,” said Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Byron Babione.
“Just as it is constitutional for officials to display a menorah and a holiday tree, it is also constitutional to include a Nativity scene. We are pleased that the settlement will allow for a Nativity scene in the rotunda this year.”
Babione said the Nativity scene is legal and appropriate.
“The state Capitol Rotunda is open for displays and exhibits during the holiday season. The state cannot bar a Christmas Nativity because of its religious viewpoint and allow other displays like a menorah and ‘holiday tree,’ ” Babione said.
Steve Valandra, spokesman for the General Administration Department, said the display would be up from Dec. 3 to 28.
He said the display was not allowed last year because the request came in too late. “There’s a little process that everybody goes through when they want to put up a display,” Valandra said.
Wesselius asked to display the scene after he noticed the menorah display, Valandra said. Valandra vetted the idea with the state Attorney General’s Office because of the religious content of the display and was told there was not enough time to research the issue.