Wash. State to Bar Religious Displays Inside Capitol Buildings

Religious and nongovernmental displays will not be allowed inside Capitol buildings in Washington state starting next month, according to new rules formally signed Friday.

The move by the Washington Department of General Administration was made in light of last year's Christmas season fiasco, during which various groups engaged one another in a battle over displays – religious and anti-religious.

Notably, however, the new rules do allow for a state-sponsored "holiday tree" to be displayed inside the Capitol Rotunda and also do not bar religious displays from being set up outside the buildings of the Capitol campus.

As a result, a number of groups say they believe the battle over religious displays will simply move outside and that the approval of a "holiday tree" will not be impervious to protest from both sides of the divide – anti-religion activists who view even "holiday trees" as a promotion of faith and religious Americans who have generally been opposed to calling Christmas trees "holiday trees."

Last year, a crowd of 500 protesters rallied outside the Washington Capitol to protest a sign that Gov. Chris Gregoire had permitted an atheist group to include as part of a Christmas-themed display inside the rotunda.

Freedom from Religion Foundation, the group that installed the sign, said the display was to promote the Winter's Solstice. It stated: "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Regarding the new rules, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told the local Olympian newspaper that she is "very pleased" but thinks that the state is making a mistake by allowing religious displays outdoors.

"I don't think Nativity scenes belong on the outside of capitols either," Gaylor said.

Gaylor and her group plan to wage war with any group that requests to put up religious displays outside the capitol, saying that they "will match whatever they do."

"I don't think the public will be any happier about it on the outside than they would be on the inside," she added.

"I encourage the state to avoid the entire debacle."