By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
The Satanic Temple is being welcomed this year inside Florida's Capitol.
And along with a pair of nativity scenes and other secular presentations, Festivus, a non-commercial festival "for the rest of us," is close to coming back as a 6-foot stack of empty beer cans.
The Florida Department of Management Services this week approved the proposed holiday display from the Satanic Temple, which a year ago was rejected because the agency said its proposal was "grossly offensive."
The temple's entry was one of five displays that got approval to be put up in the first-floor rotunda of the Capitol for the end-of-year holiday period.
Two additional requested displays, including one to mark the sitcom-created Festivus holiday, are pending final approval.
The state agency offered no explanation with its approval of the displays.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, deferred comment to the department.
"DMS makes the rules for the Capitol," Tupps said.
Lucien Greaves, spokesman for the Satanic Temple, said in an email that "the difference seems to be in the fact that this time around we arrived with lawyers."
The temple, which threatened to sue after being rejected last year but never took action, is scheduled to put up its display Dec. 22.
The approved display will banner the phrase "Happy holidays from the Satanic Temple" atop a diorama of an angel falling into hell.
"We hope that, this holiday season, everybody can put their religious differences aside and respect that the celebratory spirit of responsible hedonism is available to all," Greaves said in the email.
Pam Olsen, who is president of the Florida Prayer Network and also submitted the application for an approved nativity scene for the International House of Prayer Tallahassee, said she doesn't have a problem with the others putting up displays. However, she questioned the motives of people who again are putting up displays in reaction to the Florida Prayer Network's introduction of a nativity scene into the Capitol last year.
"This is not a religious endorsement by our state government. It's freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and we will all be up there," Olsen said. "But are they really putting them up to wish everyone a happy holiday from the atheists and the Satanists, or are they up there to protest baby Jesus?"
Last year, a nativity joined a Hanukkah menorah and Christmas trees that had been displayed for years on the first floor of the Capitol.
Department of Management Services spokesman Ben Wolf said in an email the state agency is waiting for Deerfield Beach resident Chaz Stevens, the sponsor of the Festivus pole, and the American Atheists of Tallahassee, to select the seven-day period for their displays to be set up.
Stevens, whose irreverent display made from Pabst Blue Ribbon cans went up last year to make a point about the need for a separation between church and state, said Wednesday he intends to ask for his display to go up Dec. 15, the same day the Florida Prayer Network's nativity scene can be put up.
"The proud tradition continues forward for another year," Stevens said Wednesday. "I'm trying to be just a little more professional this year. I'm going on Craigslist to see if I can find a mariachi band to bring along."
Festivus is a "holiday" created for the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" as a non-commercial festival "for the rest of us" in the Christmas and year-end holiday season.
The atheist group, meanwhile, plans a poster that says "Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas," and offers random words that include "charity," "family," "Rockettes," "hot chocolate," and "Chinese food."
The state agency also approved a "Happy Winter Solstice" banner from the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and an entry from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The spaghetti monster, which is more often associated with opposition to the introduction of creationism and intelligent design as science in public schools than the year-end holidays, last year was represented by a pile of shredded paper on an office chair.
A change by the Department of Management Services from a year ago is that displays are being limited to seven days, rather than being given open-ended dates to go up and come down.
There is also a minimum fine of $100 for groups that don’t remove their displays on time.