BARTOW -- A Polk County commissioner's attempt to start a campaign for a
large holiday display in front of county buildings that would include
religious symbols was quashed Wednesday by his fellow commissioners.
Randy Wilkinson had led the successful push to place a 7-foot granite
monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments and other historical documents
outside the commission chambers last year.
He made his new proposal with the backing of a law group that defends
religious-expression cases nationally and an offer of free legal defense.
Wilkinson said he was inspired by a large holiday display he had seen in
Denver that incorporated religious symbols, such as a Nativity scene, as
well as secular symbols such as Santa Claus.
Such a display, which would have been privately funded, could bring people
of various religious affiliations together during the winter holiday season
and provide a tourism boost if it were large enough, Wilkinson said. "So we
can have a time of celebration for all people."
But Commissioner Don Gifford, a strong supporter of the monument installed
last year, objected to the inclusion of symbols from other religions that
he said did not play as great a role in the history of the United States...
Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations'
Central Florida chapter, said Gifford obviously was misinformed about Islam.
"Unfortunately, it's a reflection of the times right now -- the level of
hatred and bigotry we have in our nation," Bedier said. "There are Muslims
in Polk County that pay taxes and vote and are just as American as anyone