The reason for the season

THE REASON FOR THE SEASON…. The fight over holiday displays at the Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, is fascinating, in large part because it’s such an incredible mess.

The official policy seemed fairly reasonable and accommodating. A private group asked to donate a Nativity scene to be publicly displayed on the Capitol grounds. Officials agreed. An atheist group noted that if a creche is permissible, then they’d like to have a display of their own. Reluctant to play favorites and invite a legal dispute, officials agreed to this, too. A menorah was soon to be added to the mix.

At that point, the door was open, and others wanted to walk in. A hyper-right-wing religious group demanded that it be allowed to erect a sign that reads, “Santa Claus will take you to Hell.” Around the same time, Seinfeld fans asked that space be reserved for a “Festivus” pole. Then came the request for a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” display, a Buddhist request for a display, and a Christian goodwill message to atheists. All wanted equal time, just like the others had received.

Frustrated and befuddled, state officials announced that a new moratorium is now in place, forbidding any additional holiday displays at the Capitol.

A lack of space and a need to rework policy were the reasons for the decision, said Steve Valandra, spokesman for the state Department of General Administration.

The moratorium affects at least five pending requests for displays, and none will be allowed this year, Valandra said. But a previously approved request to display a menorah will be allowed to go up Dec. 21.

“The moratorium applies to pending and any future applications for exhibits and displays. It will remain in effect until General Administration completes a review of its current policy for exhibits and displays for the Legislative Building,” a statement issued by GA said.

“Reviewing” the policy seems like a good idea. Here’s my recommendation: next year, have an understated “Happy Holidays” message, put up a few generic lights, skip the representation of the birth of Jesus, and tell the community that the door is closed.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.