Festivus lovers, mark your calendars. Georgia authorities gave a free speech group called The Humanity Fund the right to hoist a “Gay Pride Festivus Pole” under the Gold Dome on Dec. 23.
Steve Stancil, the head of the Georgia Building Authority said Thursday he granted the group’s petition to mount a 6’6″ tall pole painted with purple glitter, splotched with rainbow colors and topped with a disco ball on the second floor of the Georgia Capitol.
“They made a request and they met the criteria,” he said.
The pole has already graced the statehouse in Florida, and there are plans to mount it in Illinois, Michigan and Washington. It was also recently approved by officials in Oklahoma, while leaders in Arkansas cited trademark and safety concerns in rejecting the proposal.
“Why Georgia? Really? Why not, given Georgia’s historical tolerance for differing views (wink),” Chaz Stevens, the Humanity Fund’s director, wrote in an email. “If anyone in the South could use an erection, it’s those Confederate flag waving lunkheads.”
For the uninitiated, Festivus is a fictional holiday depicted in Seinfeld celebrated on Dec. 23. It features a family dinner where, in the words of Frank Constanza, celebrants get to “tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year” followed by a “feats of strength” contest.
The holiday season can be a perilous time for government officials trying to balance the separation of church and state with the clamor from groups wanting to display religious symbols in public places. Courts typically allow the displays as long as they don’t create the impression that government endorses or disapproves a religion.
“This is why displays during the holiday season often include symbols celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas or also include more secular symbols,” said Anthony Kreis, a constitutional scholar at the University of Georgia.
Some governments have tried to skirt the debate by creating a public forum where outside groups can display on government grounds. In Florida, it led to the bizarre scene of the Festivus pole sharing space with a display of the Nativity and shreds of cardboard with googly eyes called the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Rejecting the Festivus pole would have been more problematic in Georgia, where a Nativity scene was on display on the second floor of the Capitol on Tuesday without any other obvious religious symbols nearby. (A Christmas tree also towers over the building’s main lobby.)
Stevens said it was a no-brainer for Georgia leaders.
“There are no moving parts, no power requirements,” he said. “But plenty of opportunities to air one’s grievances.”
Some religious conservatives were not taking the bait.
“If they want to put their rainbow pole up by the Christmas tree, go for it. I’m sure it will look nice in the disco ball’s reflection,” said state Rep. Jason Spencer, a Woodbine Republican who is one of the more conservative members of the Georgia House. “Come one, come all. The more the merrier.”
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