Brenda Bauer, director of the city's department of fleets and facilities (which oversees City Hall decorations), says she made the decision not to display the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa decorations because "there are a lot of emotions around [religious displays] and this has a very tough year at the city. With all the furloughs and layoffs, we need to stay focused on our priorities rather than creating a controversy."
"Religious displays have created a great deal of controversy" in recent years, Bauer notes. For example, in 2008, atheists sparked a statewide controversy when they displayed an anti-religion sign alongside a holiday tree and a Christian nativity in the state capitol. In 2006, Sea-Tac Airport decided to take down its Christmas trees when a local rabbi demanded that the airport also display an 8-foot-high menorah, and has not displayed holiday trees since.
But what about the 15-foot-high tree, decked with ornaments including lifelike doves, that currently anchors the first floor of City Hall?
"It's not a Christmas tree. It's a holiday tree," Bauer says. "There are a variety of decorations around City Hall, [including] poinsettias and greenery ... They are seasonal decorations that are peaceful."
Doug Honig, spokesman for the state ACLU, says that whereas a menorah "clearly is a religious symbol," holiday trees have "been so secularized that they're not seen as religious symbols." He says the ACLU has not taken a position on City Hall's holiday decorations.