After erecting a nativity scene in the rotunda of the state Capitol for the past two years — and prompting protest displays from Satanic cults to a pole of beer cans — the Christian prayer group that sponsored the depiction said it was not going to continue the tradition this year.
“My hope is that the Christ in Christmas is louder than a wood display and some figurines,’’ said Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network who submitted the application to the state for the last two years on behalf of the International House of Prayer Tallahassee.
“I have been pondering this for a while,” Olsen said. “The racial tensions and mass murders, the shootings at the Planned Parenthood and in California — something is very wrong in our country. We need to step back and say we need to stop. Let the sound of the Christ child bring hope, joy and peace instead of dissension.”
In 2013, Olsen’s group petitioned the state to display the nativity scene next to the Hanukkah menorah and Christmas trees that had been traditionally displayed on the first floor of the Capitol.
But the arrival of the nativity scene provoked a series of irreverent displays from other groups who asked for and received permission from the Department of Management Services.
The American Atheists of Tallahassee displayed a “Festivus” pole made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. Festivus was first made famous by the television sitcom Seinfeld, depicting a noncommercial festival “for the rest of us” for the Christmas season and end of the year.
Last year, other displays were approved by the agency, including a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, an entry from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a diorama displayed by the Satanic Temple.
The Satanic display so angered Susan Hemeryck of Tallahassee that she attempted to rip apart the display and was charged with criminal mischief.
“We pray that Christ’s message of hope and peace will be communicated in a much stronger way this year from Florida’s state Capitol, by us not placing the nativity in the rotunda,” Olsen said.
She insisted that the group was not backing down but instead wanted to shift the focus of the season to one of peace, not dissension.
“We are not retreating,” she said. “We will continue to take a stand at Florida’s Capitol for religious freedom in the public square that our Constitution affords us!”