9th Circuit Upholds Ban on Holiday Displays

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.

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  • colnago80

    Hey, the 9th Circuit doesn’t count. Everybody knows that the 9th Circuit is filled with left wing pinko commies. End snark.

  • caseloweraz

    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.

    At a subsequent press conference, a spokespirit for the Christian god apologized to believers and said that the omnipotent deity had been preoccupied in the Middle East at the time.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    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.

    God truly has lifted His hand of protection.

  • D. C. Sessions

    As Modus points out, God has made His will clear: He prefers atheists.

    Well, that or He is not up to rigging a drawing.

  • StevoR

    Bah humbug!

  • John Pieret

    Talk about balls, the Christians:

    As for the Committee’s allegation regarding Lemon’s second prong—i.e., that Ordinance 2401 has the primary effect of “convey[ing] disapproval of religion”—we find it simply implausible. The history we have recounted shows that, far from disapproving the nativity scenes, the City welcomed and accommodated the Committee’s displays for over fifty years and repealed the Winter Display exception only when it was convinced that no other course of action made sense. Indeed, a third party might well have had grounds to sue the City on the grounds that the Winter Display system itself violated the Establishment Clause by unduly privileging religion. Thus, it is not plausible that, considering Ordinance 2401 in context, a “reasonable observer” would conclude that its primary effect was to communicate a message of disfavor toward Christianity.

    Anyone who wants to read the decision can find it here:

    http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2015/04/30/13-55011.pdf

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    I think this excerpt (from the lower court’s ruling, I think), sums up Christian butt-hurt nicely:

    “If the [plaintiffs] feel that the burden of the regulation falls most heavily on them, it is perhaps because they are now held to the same standard as all other similarly situated applicants. While the adjustment may not be an easy one, the outcome is inescapably content-neutral.”

  • abb3w

    @-2, Judge Bybee

    Indeed, a third party might well have had grounds to sue the City on the grounds that the Winter Display system itself violated the Establishment Clause by unduly privileging religion.

    That’s… interesting. I wonder if that might eventually be usable as a political argument when Christians try for in-school Bible distributions. “If you open up this forum, sure, Christians will be able to use it, but so will atheists and Satanists; and once you open the door, they will be able to sue and prevent you from closing it again.”

  • yak2

    Given that Bybee authored the torture memo for W, this may be a tough one for the right wing to spin