Love him or hate him, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is a man who sticks by his convictions.
He started by making Wisconsin more business-friendly, then took on the public sector unions. And now, the state lawmaker that has solidified a national name for himself is taking on atheists and non-believers — over the state’s “holiday” tree.
On Monday, Walker decided that he wanted to shake things up a bit. Rather than following recent tradition and referring to the (Christmas) tree that is placed in the Wisconsin’s Capitol Rotunda as a “holiday tree,” he’s changing course. For the past 25 years, lawmakers have referred to the evergreen that is decorated with ornaments and a star with this benign, uncategorized reference. Now, Walker plans to, once again, call the tree what it is — a Christmas tree.
From 1916 until 1985, the state did, indeed, refer to the tree as such. But in 1985, when lawmakers began getting nervous about government endorsement of religion, they began referring to it as a holiday tree. Walker, though, doesn’t want to continue doing so.
Rather than making a big deal out of the change, the governor simply put out a press release that referred to the holiday decoration as a Christmas tree. The release doesn’t note that any change in reference occurred. A portion of the document reads:
Today Governor Walker asked art teachers, parents, and youth all across Wisconsin to help the State of Wisconsin decorate the Capitol Christmas Tree. The theme of the tree this year will be Honoring 163 years of Wisconsin’s Veterans.
“As the holiday season comes, I am excited to announce that the Christmas tree displayed in our State Capitol will have homemade ornaments created by Wisconsin’s youth,” said Governor Walker. “I am hopeful we receive ornaments from all across Wisconsin so that we are able to showcase the diversity that makes up our great state. I invite all Wisconsin residents to stop by the Capitol and view our state’s holiday display.”
But when asked, spokesman Cullen Werwei confirmed that the decision was intentional. “It’s a Christmas tree,” Werwei said. “In all honesty, I don’t know what more to say about it.” In the Charleston Daily Mail, Don Surber echoed this sentiment, writing, “Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin just ended 25 years of stupidity.”
Not everyone agrees, though. The infamous Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and “freethinkers,” doesn’t plan to let the change go unnoticed. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s president, called the decision both rude and insensitive to non-Christians. Gaylor said:
“The reason that it was turned into a holiday tree was to avoid this connotation that the governor chooses one religion over another. It’s essentially a discourtesy by the governor to announce that. He intends that to be a slight and a snub to non-Christians, otherwise he would not do it.”
Considering the FFRF’s track record, it’s likely the group will be doing more than simply commenting on the matter. We’ll have to wait and see their next legal moves.
(H/T: Associated Press)