You may remember the controversy a couple years ago in Santa Monica, where an atheist group challenged a Christian holiday display and forced the city to adopt a lottery system for holiday displays. After most of the winners of the lottery were atheists, the city just banned all holiday displays in the park and were sued by Christians. The 9th Circuit has now upheld that ban on displays.
A federal appeals court on Thursday found a Southern California city acted without violating the U.S. constitutional protection of free speech when it prevented a group from installing Christmas nativity displays at a public park…
Santa Monica city leaders responded by creating a lottery system to hand out space in the park for the displays, and the atheists won most spots.
With creators of the nativity scenes and atheists vowing to submit large numbers of applications, city officials decided to prohibit displays in the park.
The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, a group of residents responsible for creating the nativity scenes, sued the city in 2012, accusing it of violating their rights to free speech under the U.S. Constitution…“We do not doubt that the committee resents the way in which the City curtailed its traditional way of celebrating the Christmas season in Palisades Park, but its grievances do not state a viable claim that the city violated the First Amendment” of the Constitution, Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote in a 29-page opinion.
No one has a right to put a display up on public property. The government can do one of two things: Open a limited public forum that allows all groups equal access or ban it entirely. Either one is constitutional. We have an almost identical case going on here in Michigan, where a group of Christians is suing the city of Grand Haven after it got rid of a huge cross on a public dune overlooking Lake Michigan rather than have to create a public forum that would damage the delicate environment of the dune.