The controversy over a public display in Florida that features a Nativity scene and a Festivus pole has taken a new turn, after an application from satanic followers was denied by a state official.
The New York-based Satanic Temple group is trying to get at least two monuments promoting its viewpoints included in public displays that contain Christian objects.
The incidents are yet another example of a public debate over the First Amendment that seems to pop up with regular frequency.
In one case, the Temple wants a satanic statue near a Ten Commandments plaque in Oklahoma City. The privately funded Ten Commandments monument was allowed to reside on the state capitols steps after a 2009 decision by lawmakers there.
And in a second, more publicized case, the Temple wanted display space in Tallahassee in a public area at the Florida courthouse that originally included a privately funded Nativity scene. After an outcry from some groups, Florida’s Department of Management Services accepted applications from other groups to display holiday-related objects.
The bulk of the media attention went to a Seinfeld-inspired Festivus pole made from empty beer cans, which is now near the Nativity scene. In addition, displays from an anti-creationist group, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is now at the Capitiol, as well as placards from some atheist groups and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
The Temple submitted its application last week, which was rejected as “grossly offensive,” says the website Tallahasee.com.
In an email published by the website, a Department said the satanic display featured an image of an angel falling into the flaming pits of Hell, accompanied by a greeting that said, “Happy Holidays from the Satanic Temple” and a bible verse.
Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves told local media in Florida that he was surprised by the decision and it wanted a clarification from the state before the Temple decided its next move.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster calls itself “pastafarians” and insists that it isn’t anti-religious. Its display in Florida depicted a lump of noodles with two eyes.
At the debate’s heart is the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There is a distinct possibility that the Supreme Court could change its guidance on the public religious displays next year, as it ponders a case involving Christian prayers at public government meetings.
In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Court will debate the effectiveness of the Endorsement Test, an idea fostered by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1984. The test states that in order for a government action to comply with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause about religion, it can’t take actions that seem to endorse or disapprove of religion from the perspective of a reasonable observer.
If the current Court, with its conservative majority, shies away from the Endorsement Test in the Town of Greece case, the powers of state and local governments to allow religious symbols and practices on their own could expand.
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