The loss might hardly register in the Christmas wars raging in other state capitals, but Ron Wesselius still can’t understand why someone stole baby Jesus from his nativity scene at the state Capitol grounds in Olympia this week.
Wesselius, a Tumwater resident who works in real estate, erected his small display this year with standard figures – Jesus in a manger, Mary and Joseph. All were inside a simple wooden box near Tivoli Fountain on the lawn a few hundred yards from the Washington Legislative Building, an area where such displays are allowed.
He said the theft, which happened sometime on or before Sunday, is the third time since he began putting his display outdoors a few years ago that the Jesus was stolen.
“Where’s the free speech?” Wesselius said Wednesday. “Why can’t different sides have different opinions and respect one another?”
After noticing the latest theft, Wesselius bought a doll from Goodwill and placed it in the display earlier in the week. It was still in place Christmas Eve.
Some state capitals are seeing far worse this year, as religious displays stir passions. In Florida, a Christian protester tore an angel from a satirical satanist group’s display inside the state Capitol. And in Michigan, both a nativity set and Satanic Temple display were allowed once the door was opened to religious displays.
The Washington state Capitol had its turn in the spotlight in 2008 when atheists, Christians, Jews, and controversial groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church vied for space inside the Legislative Building.
An atheist’s display was stolen that year, though later recovered from a Seattle radio station, and the long list of groups wanting displays eventually prompted a moratorium and rule change that banished religious displays to limited outdoor areas of the Capitol Campus lawn.
This year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t put up its atheist display, but the Chabad Jewish Discovery Center once again installed its electric-lit menorah at Sylvester Park, which the state owns.
Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said the Jesus case is being treated as a theft, and charges could be brought if someone is identified.
“Obviously an item from a display – it doesn’t have serial number, it doesn’t have a tracking chip. We completely get that this is going to be a difficult case to solve,” Calkins said Wednesday.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously. We don’t want people’s stereos stolen out of their cars when they visit the Capitol. We don’t want women’s purses stolen. And we don’t want a baby Jesus stolen out of a manger scene.”