Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

State Senate Stupidity

The Wisconsin State Legislature is one of the highest political levels that tolerate substantial eccentricity, particular from our northern districts. For many years in my lifetime one of the Senators from the Appleton area (since deceased) was an avowed fan of Joseph McCarthy and tended to follow his principles in governance and tolerance. One of our current crop is locally famous for the underground shooting range and bunker complex he has built on his rural land. Now, Representative. Marlin Schneider from Wisconsin Rapids has decided to perpetrate an egregious waste of the taxpayer's money by introducing a bill to officially rename the State Capitol's "holiday tree" the Wisconsin State Christmas Tree.

A bit of history: For many, many years, at Christmans time the State Capitol Rotonda has been decorated with an enormous Christmas tree culled form the state's north woods, and used to host a fairly spectacular Christmas pageant/concert. (My father did lighting for the show when he was an electirician at the Capitol.)

In 1985, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an objection with the state on the basis that the Christmas tree, etc., violated the establishment clause. The case never went to court since the State Department of Administration, which is responsible for buildings and grounds, brokered an agreement wherein the tree was referred to as a "Holiday Tree" and the Foundation was allowed to add a countering small display with phrases such as "Superstition Enslaves Minds." Over the years another group provided a menorah, and I believe that some other religious groups provided seasonally themed displays as well.

OK, I'm not wild about "Holiday Tree"--in fact, in my Scroogish way, I tend to think the whole thing is a waste of taxpayers money and could be scrapped--but it was a reasonable compromise and people rubbed along with it.

Until now. Why this bee has to be in Schneider's bonnet now I can't say, since he's been in the Legislature since 1970 and the issue hasn't come up before. His argument is a "common sense" one: he says, it is a Christmas tree, so it should be called a Christmas tree. I suppose he has a point, but why waste the taxpayer's time and money making use of the term official/mandatory? Besides the expense associated with passign a bill (if it does pass) the FFRF is going to HAVE to respond with a lawsuit, which, win or lose, will be a costly undertaking to very little point, and the case law at present is largely on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's side.

I should add that Schneider is a Democrat, although he comes from a very conservative district, and shouldn't be introducing this just as wedge issue, which makes me beleive this is his own personal crochet. The Assembly held a hearing on this bill in the last couple days and I dearly hope it won't go any further.
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