Fire hazard or religious freedom: Wis. to vote on real trees in churches
The bill up for a vote would strip fire chiefs of the ability to ban live Christmas trees in churches; NFPA says not to use live trees in places where 50 or more people gather
By Bryna Godar
The Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. — State senators are considering legislation that would prohibit government officials from banning natural Christmas trees, which are considered a fire risk, from churches and the state Capitol.
The bill has already cleared the Assembly and was heard by a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The bill's author, Republican Rep. Jesse Kremer, said some churches might not have natural trees this Christmas if the Senate doesn't pass the bill.
"Although that isn't necessarily something that's required for worship, this is a tradition, especially in some of these larger, older churches," Kremer said.
The legislation aims to clarify administrative rules, he said.
The National Fire Protection Association's guidelines call for banning natural Christmas trees in places where 50 or more people gather, but they provide exceptions for limited quantities of combustible vegetation if adequate safeguards are in place. The state has adopted the guidelines as administrative rules, but Kremer said local officials are confused by the rules.
Freedom From Religion Foundation representative Sam Grover said he is concerned that the bill takes discretion out of the hands of fire chiefs and puts it in the hands of church leaders.
"Churches are run by people and people are fallible," Grover said. "There is nothing inherent in being a church leader that makes someone more qualified to assess fire safety risks than any other average person."
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about the bill's prospects in the Senate.
Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, supports the bill but thinks the government shouldn't be wasting time on it.
"If someone wants to put a Christmas tree in their church, who cares?" Kapenga said.