Santa Monica News
Court Rules Against Public Nativity Displays
By Ivetta Babadjanian
Nov 20, 2012 - 5:10:48 PM

SANTA MONICA—U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins upheld the ban against Santa Monica's holiday tradition of setting up Christmas Nativity scenes in Palisades Park on Monday, November 19.
Nativity display. Photo courtesy of Atheists United.

A group of Christian churches attempted to have a preliminary injunction that would grant them access to setting up the display of Nativity scenes until a lawsuit had been decided.

In previous years, there were 14 life-size displays that portrayed religious scenes and it took up two blocks. The displays began in 1953 and became an annual tradition that occurred each December in which the birth of Jesus Christ was depicted.

The controversy began last year when there were more requests for display space than there was actual space. Therefore, the city held a lottery in order to distribute the empty slots fairly.

Atheists were able to win 18 of the 21 slots and only two spots remained for the Nativity scenes while another slot went to a Jewish group that displayed a menorah.

The atheists used signs in their stalls to classify religion as a myth or to compare Santa Clause to the devil. Most of the signs were vandalized and residents began to become concerned as city officials began to receive threats. The Santa Monica City Council voted to end the lottery and stop the unattended park displays all together in order to avoid future controversies.

The city argued in a legal motion that Santa Monica is “a coastal, visitor-serving community with very crowded public spaces, including its parks.” The motion goes on to argue that the council “appropriately exercised its legislative discretion to balance use of public spaces and ensure shared usage.”

Councilmembers and the city attorney's office stated groups wishing to celebrate the Nativity can do so by putting up displays on private property or have a representative at any display on public ground.

William Becker, the attorney representing the group of Christian churches, predicted that the court might grant the city's request to have his group's lawsuit dismissed on December 3. He also stated that the religious groups may appeal the court decision sometime in the future.

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