Antigo High School trumpet ensemble plays during a
Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec.
5, 2013, in Madison, Wis. The Capitol is full of
displays over the holidays, including two
traditional nativity scenes, a Festivus pole and a
sign calling religion nothing but a myth and
— Where do a 30-foot Christmas tree, a nativity-like
scene that mocks religion and a Festivus pole peacefully
rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol.
towering balsam fir Christmas tree with the toy train
circling its base and handmade ornaments attract the most
attention, tourists who venture one floor up will
encounter a panoply of beliefs — from those who embrace
Christianity to those who prefer a fictional holiday
created by "Seinfeld," and those who shun
Amendment ban on state establishment of religion makes
holiday displays in public buildings a sometimes volatile
subject. The Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union sued in 1984
to remove the Capitol Christmas tree, halt a menorah
lighting and end an annual nativity pageant. But the
lawsuit failed, and the solution in recent years has been
to embrace all religions.
rotunda is getting very cluttered," said Annie Laurie
Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion
Foundation. "But if a devotional nativity display is
allowed, then there must be 'room at the inn' for all
points of view, including irreverency and free
foundation, which represents atheists and agnostics, has a
"Winter Solstice Nativity" display in the
Capitol. The scene features Charles Darwin, Albert
Einstein and Mark Twain as the three wise men, the Statue
of Liberty and an astronaut as angels and an African
American girl baby doll to represent that "humankind
was birthed in Africa."
to the Wisconsin state Capitol walk past a menorah
and Festivus pole on display in the rotunda, along
with the 30-foot Christmas tree on Thursday, Dec. 5,
2013, in Madison, Wis. The Capitol is full of
displays over the holidays, including two
traditional nativity scenes and a sign calling
religion nothing but a myth and superstition.
who submits an application to the Capitol police can put
up a display, which has opened the door to an unusual mix
of views. But everyone in the Capitol, from Gov. Scott
Walker to tourists, said they were OK with that.
fine. It's a diverse state," Walker said. "I
think it's a reflection of the many different wonderful
traditions in the state of Wisconsin."
Kehrein, of Madison, was in the Capitol for the three
lighting ceremony on Thursday.
think they're all great," he said of the displays.
"I'm all for representing all the beliefs."
longest running tradition is the Christmas tree, which has
been on display every year since 1916. Until 1987, it
called a Christmas tree. But that year, state officials
replaced the word "Christmas" with
"holiday" to avoid offending anyone. Walker
started calling it a Christmas tree again after he took
office in 2011.
2011, the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action put
up a traditional nativity scene with a baby Jesus, three
wise men, Mary and Joseph. The Freedom from Religion
Foundation installed its scene in response.
holiday spat between the two groups dates to the 1980s
when they each displayed banners professing their faith,
or lack thereof, leading to a policy limiting the size of
signs hung in the rotunda.
they are satisfied these days with the dual nativity
Kehrein, of Madison, checks out a "Winter
Solstice Nativity" display that features an
astronaut as an angel and Albert Einstein as one of
the three wise men in the rotunda of the Wisconsin
state Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Madison,
Wis. The Capitol is full of displays over the
holidays, including two nativity scenes, a Christmas
tree and a sign calling religion nothing but a myth
least we're represented," Gaylor said.
a public forum," added Wisconsin Family Action
president Julaine Appling. "All expressions of faith
and opinion are welcomed there."
Festivus pole familiar to fans of the long-running
television sitcom "Seinfeld" has been added to
the rotunda this year between the two nativity scenes.
was celebrated in a 1997 episode on Dec. 23 as a
substitute for Christmas. The invented "holiday for
the rest of us" featured time for celebrants to air
their grievances from the past year and participate in
feats of strength.
attached to the Festivus pole in the Wisconsin Capitol
promises there will be an airing of grievances over the
noon hour on Dec. 23, but no feats of strength "due
to liability issues."
think that's cool," Larry Jensen, of Madison, said of
the Festivus pole. Jensen, a retired state worker, was in
the Capitol on Thursday to see the Christmas tree lighting
ceremony. "For me, the holiday season is a fun time
of year. I'm not a religious person."
said she wasn't concerned about the nonreligious Festivus
pole sharing space with her group's nativity scene.
see it as silly, but you aren't going to hear me
complaining about it," she said, adding that the
variety of beliefs on display "adds to the fun and
excitement of the season."