The Honorable Senator Bill Nelson;
Good day to you Sir.
My name is Chaz Stevens, a staunch advocate of the First Amendment’s Separation of Church and State, and the fellow who erected the Festivus Pole in Florida’s Capitol Rotunda. As you know, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause guarantees equal ability to promote my beliefs on state property, if other groups are given that right.
This year, in celebration of US Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriages across the nation on those same 14th Amendment grounds, our Festivus Poles will be adorned with the colors of the gay-pride rainbow.
Starting early in 2015, we’ve already requested permission from the State of Florida, and several local communities.
Knowing that throughout your storied career, you’ve been a staunch supporter of equal rights for all, I’m seeking your support in our quest to erect a Festivus Pole on the grounds of the United States Capitol. Erecting a Festivus Pole on Federal ground will surely a first in our nation’s history, however the idea is not without precedent:
- 1984 – Pawtucket, RI: (Lynch v. Donnelly) The court ruled that the city did not violate the separation of church and state when it included a nativity scene among a number of other decorations (plastic reindeer, candy canes, a wishing well, a Jewish menorah) displayed in a public park.
- 1989 – Pittsburgh PA: (Allegheny County v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter) The court prohibited the display of a nativity scene which stood alone inside a county courthouse.
- 1997 – Township of Wall, NJ: The U.S. Supreme Court let a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals stand. They decided that a display showing a Jewish menorah and a Christian nativity scene was unconstitutional. Township officials later converted the exhibition into a cultural display by adding a Santa Claus, reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.
- 1998 – Syracuse NY: The court allowed the city to retain its nativity scene in a public park along with a number of other decorations – a menorah and non-religious symbols.
- 1999 – Jersey City, NJ: The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that a religious display with a menorah, manger scene and Christmas tree was unconstitutional. The religious display was later modified by adding symbols of Kwanzaa — a traditional African celebration — Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, a sleigh, and a sign stating that the purpose for the display was to celebrate “cultural and ethnic diversity.” It was then found to be constitutional.
- 2005: The “three reindeer rule:” The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a fundamentalist Christian legal group, refered to “Three Reindeer Rule.” It states that in order to convert an unconstitutional religious display into a constitutional cultural display, a municipality must include a certain of secular objects or symbols in close enough proximity. They state: “Although the overall display must not convey a message endorsing a particular religion’s view, Christmas displays are not banned as some people believe. Simply put, the courts ask, ‘Is the municipality celebrating the holiday or promoting religion’?”
I look forward to your response.
All my very best.