Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 9 November 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In Madison, it’s ‘O Isthmus Tree’

’Tis the season, already, for theocrats to use Christmas as an excuse to wage a war on secularism.

Wisconsin media in early November sought out the Freedom From Religion Foundation for comment when Gov. Scott Walker announced he was renaming the state holiday tree a “Christmas tree.”

In the 1980s, Gov. Tony Earl had dubbed the annual rotunda display a holiday tree to show inclusivity following disputes over religious displays in the Capitol.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, in several interviews, told media that “Governor Walker is wrong. It’s not a Christmas tree. It’s a Winter Solstice tree. The custom of decorating with evergreens is pagan in origin and long predates Christianity.” She added, “Clearly, Governor Walker, by insisting it be called a Christmas tree, intends to send a message of exclusion.”

FFRF has applied to put up its annual Winter Solstice sign in the Capitol. “We don’t think the State Capitol should be a public forum for religion, but as long as religion will be in the Capitol in December, we nonreligious should be represented there, too,” Gaylor said.

The Capitol becomes the venue for countless choirs, a menorah with godly sign, an interfaith week and other religious events in December, including a nativity pageant that takes over the Capitol for a weekend.

One of FFRF’s first actions in the 1970s was ending city and public school subsidies of the pageant. Madison songwriter Ken Lonnquist has written a clever song about the tree-naming controversy, “O Isthmus Tree” (the Capitol stands on an isthmus between two lakes in downtown Madison). One verse says:
While Christians claim you as their own
Historically it’s widely known
Your origin was pagan when
The Yule tree was plundered.

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