Last year, when Chaz Stevens, a 35-year resident of South Florida saw menorahs and Nativity scenes on the properties of the respective private religious gathering places, he thought it was entertaining. When the religious symbols started popping up in public, government-owned properties on Deerfield Beach, he got irritated. He asked the city manager to remove the religious displays from public property.
The city manager declined, saying that anyone could place a decent display so long as they hold a permit. At first, Stevens, who is also the editor-in-chief of a popular South Florida political blog, aptly named myactsofsedition.com, wanted to erect a plywood display that read "WTF." Of course, that would not fly, so he asked a good attorney friend of his, Thomas Wright, III, who is the head of the civil division of a Boca Raton law firm, to help him.
Besides being an attorney, Wright is a renaissance man who can make or repair anything from knives to clocks and even appeared on MasterChef with Christine Ha. Though a successful litigator, in this instance Wright would not assist Stevens with constitutional issues, but with his carpentry skills.
So it was that six feet from the Nativity scene erected on government-owned property, three wise men appeared: a political blogger, an attorney, and Sean, a local pornography producer, to take pictures. They left behind a Festivus pole made of empty beer cans. The presence of beer cans sparked outrage from those in the religious community, but very little attention was given in the media. "Festivus" is a joke from an old Seinfeld show; it's a secular holiday that is a parody of all the hype of Christmas time.
Not one to "repeat the same thing twice," and given the fact that the City of Deerfield Beach later decided not to allow any expressions, religious or otherwise, Stevens' job was done. He wanted the "ridiculousness of religious expression" to be pointed out. That was, until he heard that there was a Nativity scene, among other religious artifacts, in Florida's State Capitol this year. The game was back on.
"I got on the phone with Tommy [Thomas Wright, III] and asked him if he thought we could get a permit to put up the pole," Stevens said. At first, Wright thought the request would be a waste of time.
"I told him [Stevens] he would never get it," Attorney Wright says. "The powers that be in Tallahassee would never approve of a Festivus pole made of beer cans to be displayed at the capitol. They would find some excuse to say no."
Admittedly, Stevens would only tell organizers that a Festivus pole was made of aluminum. Officials would not know that it was made up of the red, white and blue aluminum of Pabst Blue Ribbon containers.
Wright told me that they chose the beer because its colors were patriotic and represented blue-collar America. Besides that, he was particularly fond of Dennis Hopper's affinity for PBR in the movie Blue Velvet. He thinks that Stevens' efforts show how absurd Christian imperialism has become.
"We are trying to be ridiculous. I don't hate Jews, Christians or Buddhists, or any religions really. I love them all and I truly enjoy the holidays," Wright says. "What I cannot wrap my mind around is the trend in this country to favor Christians' point of, especially on a governmental level."
Although most divisions of government separate church and state, Wright says that the Court system still has religious connotations.
It goes without saying that there are numerous examples of the ways in which Christianity has bled its own laws into secular laws we are all expected to abide by. Religion often bleeds into matters of the government with prayer occurring before legislative sessions.
We live in a land of religions. According to ABC News, nearly 83 percent of Americans identify as being Christians. Doubtless, this leaves little space for those who do not buy into organized religion, whether they be atheists, agnostics, or simply not interested.
Erecting the Festivus pole in Florida's state capital garnered national attention. While Fox News lambasted the idea, others like Jon Stewart's Daily Show and The Colbert Report included it in their comedy segments.
Wright says that putting religion and beliefs aside for a moment, hopefully the politicians will allow the Pabst Blue Ribbon cans to remain as a symbol that, at the end of the day, regardless of differences, everyone should sit back, relax, get along and try to work together. "Perhaps the airing of grievances and some feats of strength in the aisles might actually help them to get some things done."
My guess is that so long as there is a stack of beer cans within eyeshot of baby Jesus, the Christian extremists in this country will disapprove. However dismayed these folks are, I certainly think Stevens' point has been made.