Saturday, December 27, 2008

Counter-nativity Display Now Includes Comedy

-- From "Festivus pole goes up in the Illinois Capitol, and the gripes begin" by David Mercer, Associated Press 12/25/08

SPRINGFIELD -- In the world of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” Festivus is a goofy, high-tension Christmas substitute dreamt up by George Costanza’s angry dad. Revelers gathered around an aluminum pole and couldn’t leave until someone pinned the head of the household to the floor.

Festivus is still good for a laugh among “Seinfeld” loyalists, even 11 years after the episode was first broadcast.

Funny, but nobody’s laughing much about the Festivus pole that popped up under the dome of the Illinois Capitol this week.

Not the people who set up the nearby nativity scene.

“I think it’s a mockery,” said Dan Zanoza, chairman of the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee.

Not the atheists who set up their own Capitol display.

“If the state’s going to create a forum for religion at this time of year, which we do not approve of, this is what’s going to happen,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Even the 18-year-old who created the pole isn’t laughing much. . . . The high school senior and member of the American Civil Liberties Union is home in Springfield for a break from his Lake Forest boarding school.

His parents reluctantly contributed the aluminum handle from their swimming pool skimmer, and Tennenhouse and his 13-year-old bother, Matt, applied for a permit to put up a Festivus pole in the Capitol.

The state, much to Tennenhouse’s surprise, didn’t turn him down.

Nathan Maddox, senior legal adviser with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, says the state couldn’t legally deny Tennenhouse’s right to free expression.

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