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3:27 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Florida Man Airs Grievances With Festivus Pole In Capitol

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 6:14 pm

There's a brand-new holiday display at Florida's state Capitol in Tallahassee: a pole celebrating the fake holiday Festivus from the TV show Seinfeld.

It's the latest protest exhibit after a Nativity scene was set up in the rotunda last week.

"This whole thing is just a serious feat of ... ridiculousness," says Chaz Stevens, who marched into the Capitol building on Wednesday morning clutching a case of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and a 6-foot pole made of PVC pipe. It's a nod to the unadorned aluminum pole that is part of the secular Festivus holiday invented by George Costanza's dad on Seinfeld.

The celebration also includes an "airing of grievances" during the family meal, in which each person describes disappointments experienced over the course of the year.

Stevens says when he heard about the Capitol Nativity scene, it was just too much. So he applied to the state to install his own display: a pole covered in beer cans.

"This is about separation of church and state," Stevens says. "The government shouldn't be in this business of allowing the mixture of church and state."

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.

"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," Simon says.

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 a Loudoun County, Va., courthouse two years ago.

"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," Seidel says.

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. "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."

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 worshipping a just-born Bill of Rights. 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.

"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?" Olsen said.

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.

"I'll see all 50 Capitols then," Stevens says. "Why not? Sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon."

No word yet on whether Florida accepted the Satanic Temple application.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

MELISSA BLOCK. HOST: 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."

(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SHOW "SEINFELD")

MICHAEL RICHARDS, ACTOR: (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 a 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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