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Florida Man Airs Grievances With Festivus Pole In Capitol

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Florida Man Airs Grievances With Festivus Pole In Capitol

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Florida Man Airs Grievances With Festivus Pole In Capitol

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. In Florida, there's a brand new holiday display at the state Capitol in Tallahassee to mark the season. It's a pole to celebrate the fake holiday Festivus made famous in the TV show "Seinfeld." It's the latest exhibit set up in protest after a nativity scene was set up in the rotunda last week. Florida Public Radio's Jessica Palombo has the story.

JESSICA PALOMBO, BYLINE: This morning Chaz Stevens marched into the Florida Capitol building clutching a case of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and a six foot pole made of PVC pipe.

CHAZ STEVENS: This whole thing is just a serious feat of - oops, sorry, ridiculousness.

PALOMBO: The pole is a nod to Festivus, the holiday George Costanza's dad explained to Kramer on "Seinfeld."


MICHAEL RICHARDS: (As Kramer) And is there a tree?

JERRY STILLER: (As Frank) No. Instead there's a pole. Requires no decoration.

PALOMBO: Chaz Stevens had driven seven hours from South Florida and his first stop was the Capitol Police office.

STEVENS: Hi there. My name is Chaz Stevens. I have a Festivus pole for display in the rotunda.

PALOMBO: He says when he heard about the Capitol nativity scene that was just too much. So he applied to the state to install his own display: a pole covered in beer cans.

STEVENS: This is about separation of church and state. That sign shouldn't be here. That shouldn't be here. I guess there's a cross around here. I can't see with the lights. All this shouldn't be here. The government shouldn't be in this business of allowing the mixture of church and state.

PALOMBO: The displays are allowed inside Florida's Capitol building because the state has designated the rotunda as a public forum. Howard Simon of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the state had no choice.

HOWARD SIMON: They're not going to be allowed to discriminate. It's going to be a public forum for all forms of speech and expression and displays.

PALOMBO: In fact, Florida has a pending application from a group called the Satanic Temple. Simon says it's unconstitutional for government to put up nativity scenes because that's sponsorship of religion. So these public forums tend to become free-speech battle zones. Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation says that's what happened in Loudon County, Virginia, two years ago.

ANDREW SEIDEL: I think it was something like nine or 10 atheist displays went up. One of them was a crucified Santa. One of them was the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

PALOMBO: Seidel says it all started when elected leaders there allowed a nativity scene on public property. He says cities tend to close forums after such displays appear.

SEIDEL: When a religious group seeks to co-opt the power and the prestige of the government for their religious message, the best way to dilute that co-opting of the power and prestige is to put up our own message.

PALOMBO: His foundation's banner at the Florida Capitol says happy winter solstice. Below that is a drawing of the Founding Fathers and Statue of Liberty worshiping a just-born Bill of Rights.


PALOMBO: He says the banner was a response to the nativity unveiled with a worship service two days earlier by Florida Prayer Network Director Pam Olsen.

PAM OLSEN: We are taking a stand for Christ in Christmas, a stand for truth and religious freedom, and what better place to do this than the heart of our state government?

PALOMBO: Olsen says the Chicago-based group that sponsored her celebration aims to put a nativity at every state capitol. Stevens says he and his pole are up for the challenge.

STEVENS: I'll see all 50 capitols then. Why not? Sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon.

PALOMBO: No word yet on whether Florida accepted the Satanic Temple application. For NPR News, I'm Jessica Palombo in Tallahassee.

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