Don’t express anything; someone might get offended.

Wear a “positive costume” or don’t dress up (but don’t NOT wear anything at all or the SWAT team will take you down); but definitely do not wear a scary or creepy costume on Halloween, cuz someone might get scared or take offense or get their religious panties up in a bunch.

With Christmas and Hannukah coming, let’s avoid controversy altogether by banning religious (and anti-religious) and nongovernmental displays at the state capitol. A democracy cannot countenance controversy. A free exchange of ideas and points of view is simply too much for adults to handle.

Sarcasm aside, I find the “culture wars” aspect of the holiday season to be almost as irritating as the commercial exploitation and religious indoctrination aspects. Last year Freedom From Religion posted a display at the Washington State Capitol mocking religious belief. Naturally people were offended. Fine, be offended, but FFR has as much right to mock religion in a public space as your local church, synagogue or mosque has to promote its religion.

This year, the Washington State bureaucrats chose to avoid controversy and national attention (understandably) by barring all religious and nongovernmental displays inside the Capitol campus. Here is where I, an atheist, find myself more in agreement with the religious than the anti-religious:

“It’s a shame that the state is basically shutting down 95 percent of Americans that celebrate a federal holiday, which it is,” said Ron Wesselius, a Thurston County Realtor who put up the Nativity the past two years. “They are not letting them celebrate.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said she was pleased about the new rules but added that they don’t go far enough.

“I don’t think Nativity scenes belong on the outside of capitols either,” Gaylor said.

Maybe because I’m an artist, but I think more expression is better than less. Mr. Wesselius probably puts more creative effort into his nativity display than FFR did with their snarky placard last year (which I criticized along with another suit FFR brought against “so help me God” in the Presidential oath of office.) If FFR is out of ideas, I would happily create a satirical nativity or a Flying Spaghetti Monster sculpture or even something more positive, like a commemoration of great atheists. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for example, who used the holiday season to promote peace, charity and social equality.

What bothers me about Ms. Gaylor’s position is that it shuts down conversation and debate. The public space is where people should be able to convene and exchange ideas with all the passion, brilliance, silliness, ignorance, rudeness or politeness they can muster. FFR should not approve of the Washington State Capitol ban; they should oppose it and advocate for the right of atheists to express their beliefs in the company of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Wiccans, Rastafarians, Scientologists, and whoever else I forget to mention. Right now a ban on “nongovernmental displays” means all we get are governmental displays. Wheeee.

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