The Satanic Temple group has for the first time won the right to showcase its holiday display, featuring Satan descending into hell, at the Florida Capitol this year.
The Department of Management Services approved this week the applications of five groups looking to set up a display for the holiday season, Tallahassee Democrat reported on Wednesday.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that "state officials simply can't get into the business of deciding that some unpopular messages are 'offensive' and must be banned."
The display, featuring a biblical scene found in Isaiah 14:12 which shows Satan descending into hell, had previously been deemed "grossly offensive" by the DMS.
"The department's position is that your proposed display is grossly offensive during the holiday season," DMS Administrative Assistant Sherrie K. Routt told The Satanic Temple in an email last year.
The Satanic group had argued that displays with an atheist-themed message, such as a "Festivus Pole" and a rendering of the Pastafarian Flying Spaghetti Monster, had been allowed at the Florida Capitol for holiday celebration, while their display continued to be prohibited.
AU had taken up The Satanic Temple's case and urged the DMS to change its stance, threatening a lawsuit.
"Although we are pleased that the state has finally agreed to allow the Satanic Temple's display, our clients should not have been forced to find legal counsel and plan a lawsuit just to get access to an open forum," said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. "The state can't give itself the authority to decide whether certain religious messages are 'offensive' – it needs to allow everyone's speech or no one's speech."
The Satanic Temple submitted its application this year as early as October.
There are several different planned displays this year at the Florida Capitol, including Nativity scenes from the Florida Prayer Network and the International House of Prayer Tallahassee, along with banners from the secular American Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation groups.
Florida Prayer Network's Pam Olsen said that the idea behind his group's Nativity scene is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
"There's a lot of state capitols besides ours that are having Nativity scenes," Olsen said. "It's not government sponsored religion, it's freedom of religion, which makes America great. Our heart is not to cause any contention; it's simply to say Merry Christmas. It's really important that people understand that."