MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker is calling the tree decorated with ornaments and adorned with a star at the top in the center of Wisconsin's Capitol Rotunda a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree.
The roughly 30-foot tall tree had been called a Christmas tree since it was first displayed in 1916 until 1985 when the name was changed to the more generic holiday tree.
"It was always a Christmas tree in my house, as it has been in other houses around the country, around the state," Walker said. "It's been a Christmas tree."
Visitors at the Capitol had differing views on what the tree should be called.
"It is a Christmas tree," said Lois Janezic. "I firmly believe that we should put Christ back in Christmas."
"If they want to have a Christmas tree at home, that's fine," said Karla Anderegg. "They want to have it at their workplace, I guess that's fine. But this government represents all people."
For years, the decorations for the tree at the Capitol have included symbols of non-Christian faith, including a sign celebrating the winter solstice.
The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has opposed calling it a Christmas tree, saying it would offend nonreligious people and amount to a government endorsement of Christianity.
"If it's a symbol our holiday season, what's wrong with calling it a holiday tree?" said Annie Laurie Gaylor, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who said Walker's move is political grandstanding with aims to divide the state.
"Government shouldn't be involved in religion," Gaylor said. "It should be inclusive. It shouldn't make statements that would make outsiders of Jews and non-Christians in December."
"We light a menorah candle with our friends in the Jewish faith tradition," said Walker. "So this is not about establishing a state religion or anything like that. It's just, simply put, it's a Christmas tree."
In 2007, the state Assembly successfully passed a measure to change the name to a Christmas tree, but it failed to make it out of the Senate.
The tree is on display from late November to early January.
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