Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Atheist group responds to Capitol nativity scene with secular display

A nativity scene sponsored by the Thomas More Society at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill.
A nativity scene sponsored by the Thomas More Society at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Courtesy of the Thomas More Society

A nativity scene returned to the California Capitol last weekend for the first time in more than four decades – and not everyone is happy about it.

The small display of newborn Jesus in the manger, part of the Chicago law firm Thomas More Society’s effort to bring a crèche to every statehouse in the country, has drawn the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which aims to “promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”

In response, the Wisconsin-based organization this week announced its own exhibit at the Capitol: a “whimsical” cutout with three Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty gazing upon a “baby” Bill of Rights. A sign urges, “Keep religion and government separate!” during “this Season of the Winter Solstice.”

“It is inappropriate to have a sectarian religious display in the heart of state government,” Dan Barker, the foundation’s co-president, said in a statement. “We’d much prefer that the seat of government be free from religion – and irreligion. But if a devotional nativity display is allowed, there must be ‘room at the inn’ for all points of view, including irreverence and free thought.”

The mock nativity scene will be erected on the south side of the Capitol this morning, according to permits filed with Capitol authorities, and displayed through Dec. 29.

WORTH REPEATING: “It is only fitting to honor our 44th president by naming a part of a freeway he most certainly used while living in the area.” - state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, who has introduced a resolution to name a portion of a Los Angeles-area freeway the President Barack H. Obama Freeway

BILL WATCH: With the legalization last month of recreational weed by California voters, expect a wave a follow-up legislation in the new year. Lawmakers have already introduced their first proposal, Assembly Bill 64, which would ban marijuana advertising on all freeways, create TV and radio advertising rules, and clear the way for pot delivery businesses, among other provisions.

BY THE NUMBERS: The new year means the end of the one-quarter cent sales tax increase included in Proposition 30 in 2012. But sales and use taxes in many parts of the state will increase anyway in 2017, to an average of roughly 8.5 percent, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said in a new report. The state’s highest rate will be 10.25 percent and the lowest rate will continue to be 7.25 percent. California’s lowest sales tax rate is still second-highest in the country, behind only Tennessee. Parts of Louisiana, meanwhile, have the highest sales tax rate, at 12 percent.

MUSIC BREAK: The second-to-last Capitol holiday concert this year takes place at 11 a.m. in the rotunda, with a performance by the Renaissance Choir of Sacramento.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff. Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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