Bill O’Reilly has declared our state Capitol a battlefield in the War on Christmas.
Using both his Fox television show and website O’Reilly is stirring up the cultural warriors.
It seems to be working. The governor’s office was immediately deluged with calls from irate O’Reilly viewers upset over an anti-religious sign on display in the Capitol rotunda. Later, opponents of the sign staged a rally. At one point someone stole the offensive sign.
And now the controversial Westboro Baptist Church has jumped into the fray by requesting its own sign announcing that “Santa Claus will take you to hell.”
It's all a bit much, but do protesters really want the state to decide what is an acceptable religious message? Thank God the courts would never allow it.
We argued for the First Amendment and common sense last year, when a Nativity scene — not an atheist group’s sign — was the center of controversy.
The same combination is sufficient to guide state policy in this latest controversy.
Here’s what we said then:
Thank God common sense sometimes prevails.
An Olympia man won approval from state lawyers this week to place a Nativity display at the state Capitol during the Christmas season.
Ron Wesselius, a real estate agent, declined to discuss his plans with Olympian reporter Brad Shannon.
But his lawyers from the Christian-oriented Alliance Defense Fund in Arizona told the Olympian they’d won agreement from the state to allow the display.
Good for Wesselius and for fans of free speech, regardless of faith.
Concerns over the separation of church and state aren’t valid in this case. Giving Wesselius a venue for his religious expression doesn’t amount to an endorsement. It doesn’t even come close.
The Capitol Rotunda, where the Nativity will be displayed, is the site of about 300 events each year, home to everything from anti-abortion protests to neo-Nazi rallies.
Clearly, ideas expressed there aren’t officially sanctioned, or even welcomed, by state government.
To deny Wesselius the same opportunity that’s granted to skinheads defies logic. The separation of church and state is meant to protect religious expression, not stifle it.
The decision to allow the Nativity is the right one.
“It is reaffirmation that the First Amendment applies in the state of Washington’s Rotunda,” said Delia Van Loenen, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund.
A year later, a new controversy about what's acceptable — But there's no way to argue First Amendment rights for Wesselius and seek to deny them to the anti-religious.