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No drama this year over holiday displays

Thu., Dec. 22, 2011, 8:42 a.m.

OLYMPIA – Washington state officials granted permits for three groups to put up holiday displays this year – two religious, one atheist – at or near the Capitol Campus, and all are set up apart from each other.

The Chabad Jewish Discovery Center received a permit to place its nine-foot-tall lighted menorah at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia. The group held a community menorah lighting event Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, a permit for a nativity set similar to what was placed there last year was granted to Hunter M. Abell of Bothell and Ron Wesselius of Thurston County.

The depiction of the birth of Jesus goes on the west campus lawn near the Winged Victory statue.

A couple hundred feet away from the Christian scene is an atheists’ exhibit. Its permit was issued to the Freedom from Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wis., which has put up a placard near Tivoli Fountain and Capitol Way on the west campus lawn.

The message on the placard declares the season of the winter solstice and asks: “Let Reason Prevail.” It goes on to say there are “no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.”

“Each requester got the location requested. We did not deliberately space them this way,” state Enterprise Services spokesman Steve Valandra said in an email.

Wesselius sued the state several years ago when he was denied a permit for a nativity inside the Capitol Rotunda.

But a ruckus over having nearby atheist displays in 2009 led to a policy change that requires any religious display to receive a permit and be sited outdoors.

The Christian group has asked to move its display closer to Capitol Way, which would bring it closer to the atheists’ placard. But the two would remain separated by two sidewalks and a lawn.

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