Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

I Think We Can All Agree – The Reason For The Season Is Not Unjustified Obstinance

mediocresamaritanHere’s a bit of local news for those of you in the Puget Sound area:

BOTHELL, Wash. — A battle is brewing in Snohomish County over a church’s Christmas decoration.   The controversial bright white star sits 90-feet in the air atop a flagpole, and now the county is threatening to take it down.  The county wants the church to pay for a permit to display that star, but the church has refused.   Pastor Brad Sebranke’s church put it there as a giant Christmas light for the whole community.  “Just reminds them what the seasons really about,” he said.

Yes, just like when Mary and Joseph – upon being told the Inn was full and they had to go sleep in a barn or whatever – refused, opting instead to go bust all up in the room they wanted, causing much confusion and arguing with the tenants who already paid-

No.  Wait.  That has NOTHING to do with what the season is all about.  At least not for me.  But more importantly, it has nothing to do with what he’s talking about when he references “what the seasons really about” either.

Obviously Sebranke was referring to the star and the Jesus birth jabba jabba, et al. when he was talking about “the season”, but none of that really matters either.  Just pay the fee like everyone else.

But county officials say because the church doesn’t have a permit for the flagpole, it must come down or the Park Ridge Community Church must pay a hefty fine.  “Just so we can make it safe,” said Snohomish County Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson. “It’s 90-feet tall, and it’s up in the power lines. And we just want to make sure everybody’s safe underneath.”  A cell-phone company built the pole a few years ago, never used it, then just left it right on the church’s property.   So Sebranke has taken to decorating it each Christmas with either a cross or the star. And he doesn’t believe he should have to pay.  “In the county, there hasn’t been, for at least 10 years, a flagpole permit issued,” he said.   So far the county has fined the church $1,500.  “Their interpretation is the county shouldn’t be regulating it and ours is we should just for the safety of everyone involved,” said Haakenson.

I think trying to make safety the focus here is a little suspect.  It makes sense to me, especially with city and state budgets looking more and more grim, that cities would be looking to collect revenue any way they can.  This includes enforcing permit laws that may have not been as strictly enforced previously.

But regardless of the city’s explanation, their request is sound.  Other similar structures have paid their permit fees, so these guys should too.  That’s part of being in a community.  Also, I have to wonder how expensive this permit is if they’ve already allowed themselves to be fined $1,500?  I mean, it’s Christmas.  Sure, a star might be nice for a lot of the people to look at, but you could buy a lot of toys or more importantly food for poor families with that money.

The county says the permit fee is much less than the fine.  But Sebranke says he won’t budge; he says this issue is about the principle, not money.

This just doesn’t make sense to me.  What principle?  Evidently there’s more to this story than safety and flagpoles and permits.

It all started last year when somebody complained to the county about the star and the cross, and the message they send from way up there.  But Sebranke doesn’t see what the big deals is over a church displaying a cross or a star.   “We’re not forcing that image on anybody,” he said. “Churches have spires. They have all kinds of symbols up in the sky.”  He has a hearing with the county on Jan. 4.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if the church would just pay the freaking permit.  Sebranke is claiming that the image is for everyone, but obviously not everyone in the community is thrilled with the thing in the first place.  The only fair way that I can see to reconcile both sides is to make sure the decoration is legally posted.  If it’s legal, they could express themselves and it wouldn’t be an issue because they’d be following the same rules as everyone else in doing so.

Thanks to our own Case for the link!

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If the tower was already built and all they did was put a light at the top, I don’t see why they need a permit to do that, although it really depends on local ordinance. After all, if they’d put a light on their front door they wouldn’t have needed a permit, would they? If they had built the tower without a permit, that would be a different story, since 90 feet in the air is high enough in small, low-skyline communities to be an air navigation hazard. Maybe. It may be that local residents have complained, since they don’t… Read more »

Sam Mulvey

I believe the difference is that at one point, the tower was basically just a flagpole, and now it has electricity running up it. I can certainly understand the need for a permit and certification for that sort of thing.


I thought cell towers were already electrified. They certainly have wires running down them, don’t they? ‘Squze moi if I’m completely ignorant about this.

Sam Mulvey

The article suggested that it was never powered up, so they may have received a construction permit, but never an operation permit. Or since it’s a church, they figured they didn’t need a permit, and now that they’ve called attention to the structure the city took notice. Either way, there’s probably a good reason for it, and yeah, the attention it gets by having a gigantic electric ELVIS! at the top of it is probably why they have a fine now. I think they should be allowed to have the sign, of course, they just need to play by the… Read more »

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