JEFFERSON CITY — Earlier this month, the dome of the Missouri Capitol was bathed in blue light to honor state law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.
Last October, the 100-year-old seat of state government was lit in pink to raise awareness of breast cancer.
The practice, however, is coming under scrutiny as capitols across the nation grapple with the use of the buildings to make political statements.
In a recent meeting of the Missouri Capitol Commission, which is charged with overseeing the operation and renovation of the historic structure, members discussed whether to draw up guidelines for when and how the dome should be illuminated.
Discussions about the lighting are a relatively new phenomenon in Jefferson City.
In January 2018, as part of an interior lighting replacement project, the state replaced the roof-mounted, high-pressure sodium dome flood lights with LED lights that can be programmed to change colors.
But, with the ability to easily program new color schemes comes questions, members said.
For example, if a lobbying group wanted to raise awareness of a specific disease, could they petition to have the dome lit a certain color.
Or, could a business organization submit an application to light the dome a color to draw attention to certain products?
“It seems like something that could get out of hand,” said Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City.
In Illinois, the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees Capitol operations, has faced questions about seasonal displays for years.
In 2018, a display from The Satanic Temple-Chicago was placed in the Illinois Statehouse rotunda, joining a Nativity scene to mark the Christmas season and a Menorah to mark Hanukkah.
Dave Druker, spokesman for the secretary of state, told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register that the group had the right, just like religious organizations, to put its display in the rotunda.
“Under the Constitution, the First Amendment, people have a right to express their feelings, their thoughts,” Druker said. “This recognizes that.”
In other words, the state cannot legally censor the content of displays, as long as they are not paid for by taxpayer dollars, because the Capitol rotunda is considered a public place.
The Satanic group has installed similar displays in other states, including on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol. It also has protested the installation of statues of the 10 Commandments on Capitol grounds in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
In 2008, as part of a humorous protest against the proliferation of religious holiday displays in the Illinois Capitol, a Springfield resident was given permission to install a simple aluminum pole in the rotunda.
The pole was an homage to a 1997 episode of “Seinfield,” in which a character created an alternative to Christmas called “Festivus.”
As for continuing to light up the Missouri Capitol dome, the new chairman of the Capitol Commission is wary.
Patrick Baker, who serves as the administrator of the state Senate, said he’s worried the colored lights could become political.
“I think you just leave it white. I don’t think it should be done at all,” Baker said.