Monday, August 31, 2009
The U.S. Constitution grants us freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Therefore, it is permissible for a government building -- such as the Capitol building in Olympia -- to host religious displays as long as the opportunity is open to all religions.
Unfortunately, some folks have a tough time with that concept. Last Christmas an atheist group put up an anti-religion sign next to the Nativity scene in the state Capitol.
The sign was allowed as part of government's policy that gives everyone equal access to place religious displays. Well, the sign didn't sit well with a number of folks and protests followed.
It got ugly, particularly when TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly fanned the flames of the controversy.
Well, it's not going to happen this Christmas. The state's Department of General Administration, which oversees the Capitol campus grounds, has put in place an interim policy that prohibits any non-governmental display. That means the only thing on display around Christmas will be a "holiday" tree.
"We want to preserve everyone's right to free expression," said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the state. "We just want to make sure we manage things better than last year."
In other words, if people can't play nicely together everybody gets out of the pool.
We see nothing wrong with a tasteful Christmas display or a Nativity scene at the state Capitol as long as those with differing views on religion have the same opportunity. The state is now putting together a policy to ensure the rights of all are respected.
Generally, this constitutionally protected approach works smoothly.
But the Freedom From Religion Foundation was looking for a fight, and those who don't buy their anti-religion message decided to engage. That was a mistake. Had people just ignored its little game it would have gone away defeated.
Creating a fuss gives the group the exposure it wanted.
And now it has successfully done away with Christmas displays at the Capitol -- at least for now. Although, the idea of a "holiday" tree probably irks those behind the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Ultimately, however, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's message is as misguided as is its name.
The Constitution mandates government not promote one religion over another; it does not prohibit religion nor does it mention a freedom from religion.
Still, the state made the right call in putting a temporary halt to private groups putting up displays in the Capitol.
More importantly than putting up a display in government buildings, those who wish to put Nativity scenes in their homes, on their lawns or at their businesses have the constitutionally protected right to do so.