The roughly 30-foot-tall tree was called a Christmas tree from the first display in 1916 until 1985. That's when politicians bowed to concerns about government endorsing religion and started referring to it as a holiday tree.Said tree is in the Capitol rotunda, which was protest central last winter. Seems like that darned rotunda is a magnet for trouble.
The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has opposed the term Christmas tree, saying it offends nonreligious people and amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.
The president of that group, Annie Laurie Gaylor, called Walker's decision rude and insensitive to non-Christians.Here's the actual press release from the Governor: "Governor Walker Invites Youth to Decorate the State Capitol Christmas Tree." The term "Christmas tree" appears 6 times in the press release.
"The reason that it was turned into a holiday tree was to avoid this connotation that the governor chooses one religion over another," she said. "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."
By chance, I was teaching the Christmas display cases in my Religion and the Constitution class this afternoon. In one of the cases, Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, there's a Christmas tree alongside an 18-foot-tall menorah, which the Supreme Court accepts as not violating the Establishment Clause. The Court says:
The Christmas tree, unlike the menorah, is not itself a religious symbol. Although Christmas trees once carried religious connotations, today they typify the secular celebration of Christmas.... Numerous Americans place Christmas trees in their homes without subscribing to Christian religious beliefs, and when the city's tree stands alone in front of the City-County Building, it is not considered an endorsement of Christian faith.... The widely accepted view of the Christmas tree as the preeminent secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season serves to emphasize the secular component of the message communicated by other elements of an accompanying holiday display, including the Chanukah menorah.Isn't it funny that in all that discussion of what a secular symbol the Christmas tree is, the Supreme Court keeps calling it a Christmas tree?