Holiday Display-Off at State Capitol

Atheist exhibit angers comptroller candidate

By Matt Bartosik
|  Thursday, Dec 24, 2009  |  Updated 7:30 AM CDT
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MoshPix: Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting

The holiday displays at the Capitol caused quite a stir.

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It's that time of year again, when the multitude of religions and non-religions compete for equal recognition.

From "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," from Festivus to the Festival of Lights, the one tradition we can all seem to agree on is the annual bickering.

In Springfield, a nativity scene is on display in the state Capitol. In order to be fair, there is also a Hanukkah menorah, a sign from the American Civil Liberties Union saying it "defends freedom of religion," and—for the second year in a row—a Festivus pole, honoring a fictional holiday that was invented by a fictional character on the show Seinfeld.

Not to be outdone, the Freedom from Religion Foundation put up a red and green sign: "At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Well, Season's Greetings to you, too.

Whatever people may think of the sign, it is there legally. The group filed a permit to post the display both this year and last.

Conservative activist and state comptroller candidate William J. Kelly was so aggravated by the sign though, he tried to tear it down himself Wednesday.

State Capitol police quickly escorted him out of the building.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State's office said that, regardless of people's reactions to the displays, all property within the Capitol building must be protected.

Perhaps Kelly had the right idea. But don't stop at tearing down the secular sign. Tear everything down.

This isn't to say we should disrespect religions. Just the opposite. We should respect them enough to keep them away from our political venues, and maintain another tradition: the separation of church and state.

As soon as the Capitol opened its doors to a religious display, it inadvertently made itself an open forum for all faiths (and non-faiths) to express themselves. It won't be long before the state Capitol, in an effort to remain respectful to all peoples, will begin to look like a trashy garden with too many lawn ornaments.

If the Capitol wants to remain fair and respectful, the best thing to do is to remove all decorations, and leave the holiday displays to the non-professionals.

Matt Bartosik is a Chicago native and a social media sovereign.

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