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Prayer Network Unveils Capitol Nativity But Critics Abound

Children from Bethel Christian Academy before the beginning of the event.
Nick Evans
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For the second year running, The Florida prayer network is installing a nativity scene in the state Capitol Rotunda.  And for the second year running there are plenty of people who are unhappy about it.

In the Capitol Monday, the Florida Prayer Network unveiled its nativity scene with something of an impromptu chapel service.  There were speeches, prayers, biblical readings and, of course, children from Tallahassee’s own Bethel Christian Academy singing Christmas carols. 

But not everyone’s happy.

“If they remove that, we would remove ours,” John Porgal says. 

Porgal is the North Florida Regional Director for American Atheists. 

“If they didn’t put that there, we would never request to come up here,” Porgal continues.

The ‘that’ that’s getting under Porgal’s skin is the nativity scene.  Porgal believes hosting a religiously themed display at the Capitol undermines the separation of church and state.  In response, he and the American Atheists have set up a poster inviting people to “Celebrate the True Meaning of XMAS”.  It’s covered with words like charity, friends and family. 

And Porgal isn’t alone in reacting against the Prayer Network’s display.  This year there will be ten installations in the rotunda—at least six of them are meant to protest or lampoon religious displays. 

Chaz Stevens is responsible for one of them. 

“The fact that apparently 15 state capitols now have a manger?  That’s 15 opportunities to mock, ridicule, and scorn,” Stevens says.

Stevens set up his Festivus pole again this year.  It’s a six-foot pole covered in Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, and it’s standing directly opposite the nativity in the Capitol Rotunda. 

Florida Prayer Network President Pam Olsen believes Christianity—and in particular, Christianity within Christmas—is under attack.  She argues the manger is her organization’s effort to push back against this anti-religious sentiment.  On the other hand, Porgal and Stevens say they wouldn’t be there at all if it wasn’t for the nativity. 

No matter who fired the first shot, at least the battle will be within a week.  That’s when the Department of Management Services, the state agency in charge of the Rotunda, requires the organizations to take down their displays.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.