by Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The December holidays took an unusual turn at the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Fla., this year: A display sponsored by a group called The Satanic Temple is coming to the rotunda.
How did this come about? Ironically, a series of actions by state officials led to this unorthodox display. A few years ago, Florida officials decided it would be nice to have a nativity scene in the capitol rotunda in December. They were aware that they couldn’t put one up themselves. A Supreme Court decision from 1989 called County of Allegheny v. ACLU bars governments from erecting purely religious symbols in public spaces.
But a private group could do it – as long as the area in question was deemed an open forum for free speech. Lo and behold, the rotunda was declared an open forum, and the crèche came in.
Of course, an open forum for free speech means just that – open to all kinds of free speech. So in 2013 the nativity scene wasn’t alone. An atheist group erected a banner offering people a happy Winter Solstice. One Floridian erected a “Festivus pole” made of empty beer cans. And “Pastafarians” put up a depiction of their beloved Flying Spaghetti Monster.