In one of the first posts at this site, Bradlaugh noted the flap in Washington state about how Gov. Christine Gregoire had supposedly — in Bill O’Reilly’s words — “insulted Christians all over the world” by ordering/allowing the adding of a plaque with an in-your-face atheist message to the holiday decorations (which included a Nativity scene) at a state office building.
Most of us, including me, took exception in one way or another to the atheist plaque or at least its wording, and I speculated that Gov. Gregoire’s office might have responded to the atheist group’s request in some way more likely to engender peace among all believers and good will toward men at the holiday season (more).
Well, I should have realized at the time that all public controversies are more complicated than Bill O’Reilly makes them sound, and in particular I of all people should have been more alert to ask the question “Who was suing or threatening to sue whom?”
The governor has no choice, folks. There is a legal settlement, negotiated by the ADF, that requires that all individuals and groups have equal access. This was done specifically to get access for a nativity scene. This reminds me very much of the school in Virginia, where a Christian group sued the school to be allowed to send fliers home with students. Then the next year, when a humanist group used the same process to advertise a humanist summer camp, they were outraged.* They’ve used equal access arguments to get their foot in the door, then they want to slam that door on others.
The ADF stands for Alliance Defense Fund, one of the hyperlitigious Christian Right lawyer strike forces that I expect to be covering often on this site. And while Gov. Gregoire is a liberal Democrat, the state’s highly regarded Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, released a joint statement with the governor explaining why the state felt that it had no choice and incidentally making clear who the litigious party was in all this: the ADF.
Americans United also covers the controversy:
The ADF was ecstatic over the settlement, so it seems rather funny that this year, when an atheist group wanted to [avail itself of the settlement’s terms and] display its own sign, that suddenly O’Reilly wants to point his finger at the governor, not his allies who started this mess.
It still seems faintly incredible to me that the ADF could sue to force the insertion of a Nativity scene in a state office building whose managers would have preferred innocuous holly-and-candy-cane displays.** But clearly I should be paying more attention to this area of the law.
*P.S. See comments, in which a commenter notes, and Brayton agrees, that this wording is faulty and should not have identified the group that filed the original school lawsuit as the same group that was outraged over its later implementation.
P.P.S. The settlement indicates that the sequence of events was as follows: 1) Capitol had been allowing “holiday tree” with no apparent sectarian content; 2) in effort to be even-handed, authorities granted request to add menorah; 3) presence of menorah allowed ADF to sue arguing that sectarian symbols were on display so that nativity had to be added too.