Christians Lose Nativity Scene Display Spots to Atheists

What happens when a local government allows groups to put up holiday displays on public property? They can’t legally favor one group over another, so they have to be fair about doling out spaces.

In Santa Monica, California, 21 display places were up for grabs and a lottery determined who’d get the spaces.

Atheists won 18 of the spots. (Though they’re only using three of them.)

Christians won 2.

Jews won 1.

Guess who’s complaining?

The Nativity story that once took 14 displays to tell — from the Annunciation, continuing to the manger in Bethlehem and onto infant Jesus’ journey to Egypt and back to Nazareth — had to be abridged to three and crammed into two plots.

Now, people walking down the sidewalk pass scenes of the Annunciation, the creche and tidings of “Peace on Earth.” Then, a few yards away, a poster from American Atheists: “37 Million Americans Know MYTHS When They See Them. What do you see?”

Apparently, a few local Christians don’t understand how lotteries work. You enter. You might win. You might lose. But you can’t sit back and assume no one else will play the game.

“A small group of out-of-town atheists is trying to hijack Santa Monica’s nearly 60-year-long Christmas tradition,” said Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, the group that works with more than a dozen churches and civic groups to organize the display.

“Their goal is getting rid of us, and squelching our 1st Amendment rights,” said Jameson, 65, who no longer lives in Santa Monica but still worships at Lighthouse Church of Santa Monica.

Yes, we’re squelching the Christians’ First Amendment rights because we happened to be selected in a lottery in which they had every opportunity to enter…

Here’s how it worked: You could apply for up to 9 display spaces. 13 people applied for spots and two of the eventual winners (Joe Naranja and Raymond McNeely) happened to be atheists who put down that they wanted all 9 of their allotted spots.

You would think that with so many churches in the area, Christians would’ve entered a few more times and put down that they wanted more spots… or maybe they just don’t know how probability works. Either way, it’s their own damn fault.

Does anyone really believe they would’ve been perfectly fine if they had won 17 spots while the atheists won only 1? Of course not. As long as we’re in the picture at all, they’re gonna whine about it.

Kudos to atheist Damon Vix for leading the charge and getting atheists entered in the drawing.

By the way, the media is spinning this story like crazy, with headlines reading “Atheist Displays Push Nativity Scenes Out of Santa Monica, California Park” and “Atheist Messages Displace CA Park Nativity Scenes.”

Those headlines are unfair and inaccurate. Don’t let anyone get away with saying we “pushed” or “displaced” Christians out of their spaces. It was never their space to begin with.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mike D

    I can’t help but be a little amused by the fences surrounding the poster. Why stop there? Bring on a force field and an armed guard – preferably ED-209 from Robocop. It’s amazing how uncomfortable we make people just by, y’know, existing.

  • Vaughan Jones

    I am creased up with laughter at the need for protection around these signs. But then I guess we don’t have a magical sky god to protect them like the Xtians do.

    Happy holidays!

  • Discobisc

    If Jesus existed he would have made it so the Christians won the spots in the lottery!

  • Michelle

    Can we talk about how ugly they are? Come on, we atheists can at least make something that looks jolly…

    …though behind chainlink it looks stupid.

    By the way, every display has chainlink around them. All of them.

  • Anonymous

    Why the hell are they surrounded with fences? Is there a real threat of vandalism? That makes me depressed.

  • Trace

    Yeah, what is it with the chicken wire and cages? Are those provided by the groups?

    I like the Jesus sign and her carrier.

  • Trace

    its carrier?  pronouns ;)

  • Gordon Duffy

    there’s always a threat of vandalism with atheist signs. The real question is did the christian displays need a fence?

  • United Colours of Benton

    Christians – “Dear Lord, why did you not alter the lottery results so that we, your favourites, would get more display places?”



    God – “Search Result Not Found”

  • Ingen

    There’s fences just like that around the nativity scenes as well, and has been for years.

  • Rich Samuels

    “you’re crushing our first amendment rights by stopping us displaying our nativity scene in all 20 locations! now take your signs down they’re offensive!!!”

  • Anonymous

    “A small group of out-of-town atheists is trying to hijack Santa Monica’s tradition “. . . said Jameson, 65, who no longer lives in Santa Monica ::facepalm::

  • Buffy

    It’s a shame that those articles have been published, because the headlines (and the comments made by the groups) really serve to demonstrate the sense of entitlement that the groups have, and their reactions show that it’s really this bruised sense of entitlement that’s bothering them. Because they have “always” had the spaces, they assumed that they always would, and when that didn’t pan out, they weren’t sure how to react. So, rather than turn the magnifying glass inward and examine why they didn’t get the spaces (poor planning, not understanding the rules, etc.), they do something incredibly childish – they lash out at the people who did get the spaces instead. The comments following the articles range from silly to downright offensive – in one case, even encouraging the destruction of the atheist displays. Truly, this is the spirit of Christmas time, and really lovely Christian behaviour…

    Obviously, there is an element of religious non-freedom there, whereby one can have freedom of religion, so long as you have a religion, rather than no religion, and that’s a shame too. No one is forcing people to give up christmas celebrations, they’re just reminding those in charge that they must adhere to the law.

  • Andrew Hall

    What I’m upset about is that the atheists have outed Santa.

  • nathan lee

    The Happy Solstice one is my favorite – it still fits with the tradition of joy and peace that I’m used to.

    I’m wondering what sort of displays we could erect that could provide these alternate happy messages? Giant plush flying spaghetti monsters? a reference of where to get a copy of “The Good Book” by A.C. Grayling? Maybe a display of Santa Clause  giving presents to children? Maybe something unrelated, referencing greek gods? No idea, but  happy messages I’m more likely to smile at.

  • Atoswald

    My first thoughts … those displays are hideous! It’s like the dog pound for plastic jesus. Wouldn’t the park look nicer without any displays?

    But since they’re there, it’s too bad the atheists didn’t do something more creative, more three dimensional with some of their spaces, like a tree of knowledge or a giant atom titled “the reason for the season (and everything else.)”

  • Michael

    It looks to me like it’s designed for people to make a full scene with furniture and models and stuff rather than just billboards?

  • Gregory Marshall

    Apparently God favors atheist when it comes to lotteries.

  • T-Rex

    Reminds me of the circus. Walk by and see the caged animals pace back and forth. Displays in cages. Hillarious. They look like they should all be lined with newspapers and housing parrots or something.  Maybe the town finally learns a lesson this year and bans all displays except for “Happy Holidays”once and for all? Nah, not likely. Next year the Xians will stuff the boxes and probably end up with the majority of spots. If they do, you know they’ll go nucking futs with the extravagance in those displays. Maybe even throw one in stating “if you don’t accept our bastard, zombie savior as your lord you will all burn in a lake of fire for eternity”…or something cheery like that.   

  • T-Rex

    They didn’t pray hard enough. Ya, that’s it.

  • T-Rex

    Grammier Knottsies sukk.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s to protect the display.  But that protects it so well by ruining the view of anything inside.

  • United Colours of Benton

    We’re really his favourites. Just don’t tell the others.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, nativity displays usually have the stable, manger, figures and livestock, in 3D rather than a billboard.  I’d like to see more creativity than just posting a billboard.

  • T-Rex

    You forgot,  he has also been too busy helping Tebow and other Xians win football games and other sporting events. So many sports, so little time.

  • A Portlander

    I was born in Santa Monica. The nativity displays have always been in an enclosure, though I’m old enough to remember a time before the chain link.

    I have to say, this smacks of pointless iconoclasm. That stretch of nativity creches along Palisades Park, overlooking the ocean, really is a beloved local tradition that literally millions of people look forward to every year. While I understand the importance of pointing out privilege, and I accept that there’s no basis beyond special pleading for keeping our hands off this one, I wish this hadn’t happened–or that more effort had been made to create something celebratory and beautiful to soften the blow. Hearts and minds, for crying out loud.

  • Annie

    “To keep it fair and legal”… that’s all that needs to be said in response to any complaints.

    It’s interesting how some people are implying that because the atheists are not using all of their spots they only did this to ruin Christmas.  My guess is that the atheist group never thought they would get so many spots.  Can’t wait to see the lottery next year!  Ho! Ho!

  • A Portlander

    The displays are illuminated from within at night, such that you don’t really notice the fencing–your brain tunes it out.

  • enuma

    Christians are 76% of the general population and 90% of Congress. It’s
    virtually impossible to get elected to public office if you are openly
    atheist. Obama has increased funding for faith-based initiatives, which
    are almost exclusively Christian. The Catholic and LDS churches funded
    the Prop 8 campaign and yet still have their tax-exempt status, which
    is automatically accorded to all churches. Christians have the power to
    get abstinence-only education funded over comprehensive sex ed, the
    power to take away marriage equality, and 87 years after Scopes we are
    still fighting legal battles to keep Creationism out of the science
    classroom. But we must never forget that Christians are an oppressed
    minority, because sometimes they don’t get as many spaces as
    non-Christians to set up holiday displays on public property.

  • Mark McCoy

    Perhaps they didn’t expect to win more than one or two spaces, and therefore didn’t have anything ready.  

    I think that in a few days, they should have their own lottery and donate the rest of the spaces that they aren’t using to churches to put up their gaudy nativity scenes.   I bet that Fox news won’t air that story, though…

  • Mark McCoy

    Apparently they have had fences for years to prevent anyone from messing with the displays.

  • Star Foster

    That woman looks like she escaped from a Pagan festival. Very Bohemian!

  • Anonymous

    If children don’t believe in santa, what keeps them from falling into the abyss of despair, nihilism, hopelessness, etc?

  • Ben Porter

    The headline should read. “Christian don’t understand basic math, need classes from Hemant Mehta.”

  • Annie

    That’s a great idea.  I mean… if they aren’t going to use the spots.

    But since the Christian groups already have spaces, it would be nice if they held their own lottery for other religious groups.  It doesn’t appear that any Muslim groups are represented. And do Santerians celebrate a winter holiday?  Surely there is more room for diversity.

  • Annie


  • Yukimi

    I think they still have time to put other stuff in the displays they have left. I would appreciate some Flying Spaguetti monster and even repeats of the banners. If they have the space, why not use it?

  • Mark

    Out-of-town atheists? Why, that’s the worst kind!

    It’s always amazing how much people hate being reminded that not everybody agrees with them. Atheists at least are used to it—they get reminded of the fact several times a day, especially this time of year.

    Somebody should really come up with a nice secular creche. What would that look like, I wonder? I hope not one of those plastic shells with a light bulb inside, or a noisy inflatable monstrosity.

  • Anonymous

    they can get a private individual, business, whatever to provide some space for it. None of these things needs to be on public property.

  • Anonymous

    I stumbled upon this blog & article for the first time this morning, and was rather surprised.  

    The title of the blog is Friendly Atheist, yet the article is bitter and angry and the message very intolerant.  Only one of the displays posted was not critical, intolerant of, or downright insulting to other religions.  For all of the displays that I have seen promoting some sort of religious holiday observance, only a very, very small minority have had this kind of an attitude.  And most of those get taken down due to community complaint.  

    I’m not surprised people are picketing these “displays”, and for a blog titled Friendly Atheist, this post appears to be far from that.  

  • Hemant Mehta

    Why shouldn’t the displays be critical of bad ideas?

  • Stogoe

    If “literally millions” of people actually looked forward to it every year, those people would have read and understood the workings of the lottery instead of just assuming that the Christians would get everything handed to them without even trying.

  • Tiffany

    Definition of myth: a usually
    traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold
    part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

  • Jim Henline

    How pray tell, did you stumble upon the blog and article? Was it linked from a conservative chrstian site in some way?

    Hemant is one of the most easy going people I know. The epitome of the friendly guy.
    The article is both filled with hilarious juxtaposition and downright facts couched in what has become his trademark satirical/cynical writing style.

    Why must the displays be tolerant?
    Why must they be non-critical?
    Why must they not insult fairy tales?

    There is no legal need to not call a spade a spade.

    As atheists we find this nearly nationwide 4 months of perceived persecution of a majority not only hilariously sad, but also a major injustice to the millions of different people in this world.

    As for displays from religious folk that get taken down, please link to one.
    Do a simple google search for “billboard removed for complaint” and I bet you find hundreds of articles, but I bet they deal with atheist billboards being removed due to death threats and vandalism as well as complaints. Find me one where an atheist has complained please.
    Here, Let Me Google That for You.

    And here is the one for the search, “Atheists complain about billboard”.

    Interesting results huh.

    As for the picketing, it is simply wrong, the person is holding a sign shouting “It is all about Jesus”, actually no it is not, look up the history of Christmas and you will see clearly that it is in fact not all about Jesus, and other than adopting it for the mythical figures birthday every single portion of Christmas, from the gift giving, to the trees, to the singing, dancing, drinking and gatherings was adopted from pagan celebrations and local customs which predate the christ myth by thousands of years.

    In other words, the reason for the season? Axial tilt.

  • Michael

    Same here. Surely we can manage Santa delivering a new microscope to a hospital?

  • Robin Cannon

    As a “friendly atheist”, it might have been nice to support something that was actually a *holiday display* (which the lottery was for, and could easily be achieved in a non-spiritual and non-religious way), rather than a dickish attempt to simply insult various religions.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’d endorse one of the atheist winners giving up one of their unused spots to a church.   I think that would be a great gesture of goodwill.  I don’t see anything wrong with a display about a myth, as long as it’s not just one myth.  We have Santa all over the freakin’ place!

  • Thackerie

    The phrase “out-of-town atheists” reminds me of how the Southerners who wanted to maintain Jim Crow laws in the 1960s blamed the Civil Rights Movement on “outside agitators.”

  • Thackerie

    Getting the presents, with or without Santa’s intervention, always seems to cheer them up.

  • Uly

    Oh look.  A “tone” argument. How original!

  • Anonymous

    For years, my husband and I have been wanting to do a manger scene using dinosaurs, 3D or cutout, but just haven’t gotten the money and energy together to do it… that, and we anticipate vandalism to the display OR our house OR both.  But that’s an idea.

  • Sarah

    You mentioned that they aren’t using all of their spots.

    While I don’t think atheists are trying to push anything on anyone, I do think if they’ve got 18 spaces then they should damn well use them, or give them to someone who WILL use them. Hoarding them and leaving them empty just seems mean-spirited.

  • NorDog

    Well, it IS Santa Monica, California.

  • Rob Bos

    This looks like fail from the people setting up the lottery.  With only 20 slots available, allowing individuals to claim up to 9 of them is a little ridiculous.  All 13 applicants could easily have fit in with a single slot each, and we’d probably have ended up with better quality.

    Flip it around, what if we ended up with three Christian applications taking all the slots and leaving them empty? It’d be just as fair.

  • Rich Wilson

    Consider what’s going to happen next year.

  • Sara_d

    Great article, it amazes me that Christians think they should be favored. Thank you Damon Vix!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see “insults” in the photos above. What exactly do you consider insulting?

    How would you create a non-religious “holiday display”? Santa and Christmas are obviously not allowed.

  • SJH

    I think that it is probably bad journalism to claim that atheists pushed or displaced Christians because by communicating it with those words he is either being misleading or is communicating opinion which has no place in journalism. I, however am of the opinion that atheists did push or displace Christians because it seems that they did this intentionally out of pure opposition and not out of a desire to celebrate their beliefs. Fair is fair however so the Christians have no right to complain about losing the spots. They do, however (in my opinion) have a right to complain about the fact that atheists are attempting to marginalize Christianity. There is no reason that atheists should feel the need to post something in a spot designated for celebration other then the fact that they want to impose their beliefs. The atheist posting are not celebrating anything. They are simply attempting to marginalize other beliefs. If the atheists that posted these displays had any respect for other peoples beliefs they would refrain from actions like this. Even if they have a right to equal time to display something why do they have to do it at the same time as another group? Why can’t they simply request a time in the summer or spring? If someone wants to celebrate Christmas, why not let them rather than trying to impose your own beliefs?

  • Brent

    I think it is perfectly legal for atheists to win in a lottery system for public space to display signs, etc.  With that said, the reason people get all bent out of shape about it is because vocal atheists are usually dicks.  The atheists put up displays that are there for nothing other than to ridicule other peoples’ faith, during the most important holiday season.  Kinda like if people put up a sign, “People with mild forms of autism are more likely to be atheists.  That explains a lot!”  That would be a dick move, and that is what this is.

    Maybe if the atheists put up displays of something positive, like science displays or something marveling the human mind.


  • Robin Cannon

    Those photos are pretty deliberately confrontational, demonstrating a clear lack of respect for people’s strongly held beliefs. Add into the fact that what are supposed to be *holiday displays* are being used for this purpose, and it becomes pretty insulting.

    As for creating a non-religious holiday display…you seriously can’t think of anything? Happy holidays, have a great festive season, season’s greetings. “Yule” is arguably non-religious, depending on your point of view. 

    I don’t necessarily see why Santa isn’t allowed. He’s arguably a non-religious figure (certainly if you take the “Father Christmas” aspect), and it’s completely intellectually consistent to be an atheist while also accepting that fictional or mythological figures can be part of festive celebration, even if you disagree that any kind of belief structure should be based off that.

  • Richard Wade

    Maybe next year an atheist group could put up a display of things like an earth globe and model sun showing how the winter solstice actually works, and a history of the ancient pagan call-back-the-sun solstice holiday and harvest/livestock feast holidays. They could also show how and why ancient pagan symbols like decorated evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, etc. were co-opted into the Christian holiday.  It could be actually interesting and educational for anyone. The written information could be informative only, leaving it simply implied that the whole thing is about myths.  Sometimes the message in between the lines can work its way into minds more deeply than an overt statement.

    I’m not saying that should be the only approach, just a suggestion for one.

    This of course, is assuming that the City of Santa Monica hasn’t decided against the whole lottery thing and has found a way to weasel out of the First Amendment requirement for fairness, so the “traditional” Festival of Favoritism can be celebrated as before.

  • Jim Henline

    So your suggestion for an atheist holiday display (please keep in mind atheists generally do not believe in myths) is to display Santa? Or to display a sign saying happy holidays?

    Why not take the opportunity to enlighten people, educate, not perpetuate.

    And how is Santa non-religious, did you miss the part where he is SAINT Nick?

  • Rich Wilson

    We don’t have to believe myths are true in order to appreciate the fiction.

    Hey, maybe a “Magic of Reality” approach.  Several ‘changing of the seasons’ myth, and as Richard Wade suggests, a model showing what really happens at solstice.

  • Robin Cannon

    Yes, why not take the opportunity to enlighten people, and educate, rather than belittling their beliefs?

    Also, Santa is entirely arguably non-religious, given that while the “Saint Nick” part is true, it is only a part of the conglomeration of mythological figures that make up the persona we now recognize as Santa. 

    You might also take into account that “Saint Nick” is, in any case, a historically verified real person, with a reputation for secret gift giving. Or does the mere fact that he is connected with the Christian religion mean that the real figure himself needs to be discounted from an atheist standpoint?

  • Nyxynox

    Sorry, I cannot applaud this… Atheists got 18 spots but are only using 3! That is not nice. Give the other 15 spots back to be randomly picked. Whether you agree with them or not, Xtians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, etc all have something during this time that is important to them.  They should be able to express that.  Religion is a part of our culture and diversity.  Displaying something is not “shoving it down our throats”.  This is cruel and bullying behavior.  Not very friendly at all.

  • Mike D

    Ah. In that case… Knibb High Football rules!

  • White-dane

    lol..well said :)

  • White-dane

    Or it could be that as atheists they are promoting nothing… doesn’t really matter…the spots are theirs to use or not as they choose:) I just can’t believe the childish complaints! I thought christians were about tolerance! Or is it “all must be tolerant of THEM” but not the other way around? lol..

  • White-dane

    Why should an atheist give up a spot they legally won as a gesture of “good will” to a Church?  Has a Church EVER given up a spot to an atheist for “good will”? 
    No…and if they loose some in a lottery they bitch and complain like angry children. Why should a Church be rewarded for throwing a tantrum? Can they not realize the monopoly they have on Dec? They respect no one else…I for one am tired of always giving in to them. Maybe they need this loss to grow? :)

  • White-dane

    Why must Christians impose their beliefs on others in December? The billboards, radio, exhibits, bells, public spectacles….Why don’t the Christians celebrate Jesus birth when he was actually born? lol.. instead of taking on others holidays… and if a person has a right to say what they want and they view God as a myth, then why can’t they say it? Christians bash us over the head with God is real, repent or go to Hell…ect… I think they have just had the right to do as they please for so long they can’t comprehend someone vocally disagreeing with them. 

  • JTP709

    So why can’t we teach both creationism and evolution both in schools? Why does it have to be one or the other?

  • Richard Wade

    I have to agree. The city officials, regardless of the impetus that got them to do it, tried to do the right thing by having the lottery in order to be inclusive, and stop the exclusivity of the earlier practice. Hoarding the unused spaces is just Scrooge-like, and is continuing the exclusion of diverse views. Don’t end up doing what you object to in others. 

  • Pam Windsor

    I hope you’re being sarcastic…

  • Monk Of Chocolate

    If creationism could ever be taught, it can be as a religious philosophy only (certainly not as a science), because it simply doesn’t hold up to the rigors of scientific empirical testing.  Evolution, on the other hand, has its foundation in scientific methods and is backed by mountains of evidence.  Creationism, by its nature, can never be considered a science…. and that’s a fact.

  • Rich Wilson

    Because there is no scientific theory of creationism.  Or of intelligent design.  All ID arguments are of the form “Evolution is wrong because”, which does not explain anything.  It doesn’t help that all those “wrong because” are themselves wrong, but that’s not actually the point.  We need an explanation of something.  The only thing that approaches this besides evolution is Biblical Genesis, and all the other similar creation myths.  None of them have any evidence whatsoever. has a much fuller explanation of why ID is not science, and does not belong in science class.  You’re free to teach various creation myths in history and literature classes.

  • Some Guy

    That’s the exact message they have. It’s just like their message of “there should be no church in state…except ours.”

  • Brad Koch

    Because creationism isn’t science.  It can’t be disproven.  It can’t be tested and confirmed or denied.  Creationism is faith in a lab coat.

  • miller

    More to the point, why are they putting up an ad for American Atheists?  It’s literally the same as the billboards they put up.  Taking a billboard advertisement and calling it a “holiday display” is pretty tacky, no matter what the billboard was advertising.

  • Xeon2000

    Seriously… I don’t think the irony even registered in his brain.

  • Demonhype

    The message implicit behind a nativity is: here is a baby we are claiming was god and if you don’t believe in what you are seeing in this display you will burn forever in fiery torment in hell.

    Which is far more intolerant than “atheists exist and think you’re full of shit”.

    Just because you’ve had over a thousand years to force your faith on everyone around you and “brand” it to the point where you can make your comment with a symbol or an image without coming right out and saying “burn in hell, non-christian!”  doesn’t make the image any “nicer” or more tolerant.

    Another implicit message of the nativity when on public land:  “Suck it, non-christians!  We own this country, we own your ass, and the government that is supposed to represent all of us equally and to which we all pay taxes specifically endorses (and sometimes funds) our religion over everyone else!  Feel lucky we allow you to even exist for now (unless you’re an atheist, then shut up about your existence).”

    Yes, that’s a very tolerant message.

    Atheists (at least, from what I can tell) generally would prefer if everyone INCLUDING ATHEISTS did not put up holiday displays on public land because it is not provided for the purposes of endorsing things like that.  A simple “happy holidays” and some nice secular (that does not mean atheist, just inclusive) is fine.  But as long as religious people are allowed to grab at government endorsement/sponsorship of their religious beliefs by using public land to parrot their views, we’ll be there to remind them that it is illegal and unconstitutional, and to show them why it’s a bad idea.

    Point is that your message is every bit as ugly and intolerant to us as ours is to you, and it would be better if we all just stopped having a pissing contest on government land.  If only Christians would stop thinking that their religious displays mean nothing if on private property and only matter if they are on government property projecting the government endorsement of their ideas to all and sundry, reminding everyone that, no matter what they may believe or disbelieve, if you’re non-Christian Jesus and Uncle Sam hate you all equally.

  • Demonhype

    Religious displays like a nativity belittle all non-christians twofold:  First: “if you don’t believe this baby is god and died for yours sins you will burn in hell” and second: “Christians are first-class citizens who get special endorsement from a government that is funded by and supposed to represent all of us, so suck it.”

    You can have a nativity or religious display on private property and be completely, fairly, legally exercising your rights, but for some reason Christians seem to think that an expression of faith is meaningless unless it is being specially endorsed by the government and projecting their first-class privilege to all those non-Christians and non-believers out there.

  • Isaac

    Yeah God prefers people who think instead of blindly follow conmen.

  • Xeon2000

    I agree. The ads are incredibly tacky. I’d prefer something festive.

  • Demonhype

    Unfortunately, that system is actually pretty unfair what with the nine
    spots per app.  A lottery is already kind of unfair on that level since the majority group could easily stuff the box, but
    at the same time if you pull 21 separate individuals chances are there would be a
    more even representation.  With this system a majority group could easily stuff the box and get all the slots to themselves.

    I think that they intended it that way, but it bit them in the ass.  I think they figured “oh, well Christians are a majority so they’ll put in their apps and they’ll crowd out all the nonbelievers and nonchristians, but just to make certain we’ll allow each app up to nine spots.  How likely is it that we’ll choose any unbelievers when there are so many Christians in the bowl?  That way, we can claim to be fair yet still stack the decks so our own group remains governmentally privileged!  Take that, atheists!

    Didn’t work out that way.  Turns out their brethren in faith either got complacent or didn’t understand probability quite as well as the unbelievers.

  • Demonhype

    They have the right to celebrate Christmas and their beliefs.  They do not–I repeat, do not–have the right to celebrate Christmas or their beliefs on PUBLIC GOVERNMENT-OWNED LAND!!!!  No one has the right to government endorsement of their beliefs!  We’d all be much happier if they would just leave their celebration of Christmas and their beliefs to their already-omnipresent place on private property, in churches, in some stores, on individual lawns and such and just keep that stuff off the government land.

    On top of that, by having religious displays on public land, Christians are trying to push non-believers and non-Christians out of this country.  They could have their displays on private land, but for some reason they seem to think their faith isn’t being fully “celebrated” unless they have their displays on government land, claiming government endorsement and sometimes government funding, so they can send a message to all non-Christians: “Suck it!  We own this country, so don’t get uppity and know your non-Christian place because we are first-class citizens.”

    Why can’t some people understand that being prevented from unconstitutionally seizing government endorsement/funding is not tantamount to stopping believers from “celebrating” any damn thing they want?  I  guess the same reason the people in my Catholic school couldn’t understand that being prevented from persecuting non-believers was not, in itself, a form of persecution.  I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around that idea myself.

  • Demonhype

    Exactly!  I love how the omnipresent overprivileged religious group is whining because there are a few square feet of space they are not allowed to dominate and pretend that that amounts to persecution/oppression of their beliefs at worst and “mean-spirited pettiness” at  best.

    Why is it not mean-spirited and petty for you to not only have your religion omnipresent but whine and bitch if a non-christian or non-believer expresses themselves or is included when someone says “happy holidays” instead of “merry christmas”–and doubly so if that expression involves public land that is owned and represents those non-believers/non-christians every bit as much as christians?

    Is it because of “tradition”?  I’m going to say “tradition”.  It’s tradition, isn’t it?  (Not that that’s an answer or even an excuse.)

  • Pseudonym

    While we’re on the topic, does anyone else think that applying for nine spaces when you know you can realistically only use a couple of them is wrong?

    My inner engineer is baulking at the blatantly inefficient distribution of a scarce resource. Moreover, the resource in question is a public good, which makes it that much worse.

    Imagine if the atheists offered local theists (especially ones which haven’t historically monopolised the spaces) use of the spaces they didn’t use. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a headline!

  • Demonhype

    I think the lottery thing was an attempt to weasel out of the First Amendment requirement.  I think they figured the atheists could never pony up enough apps to overcome the majority religion, so they could just say “hey, we tried to be fair but majority rules (as if that negates the First Amendment), so shut up, atheists!”  And to try to cement that, they allowed every app up to nine spots?  If the lottery didn’t make me suspicious, the “nine spots” thing sure did.  They figured that they’d pull three names out of the hat, they’d have a high chance of being christian, and then they could pretend to adhere to the First Amendment while still getting what they wanted–government endorsement of Christianity and crap on everyone else.

  • Pseudonym

    Why should an atheist give up a spot they legally won as a gesture of “good will” to a Church?

    To prove that atheists are better than that.

  • Demonhype

    That is my one problem.  I realize they weren’t ready, but they should be handing out the spots they don’t need (hopefully to some non-Christians who aren’t yet represented) or something.  Or open it up to all their local atheist groups so individual groups could be making individual focused efforts at filling those spaces with something nice.

  • Demonhype

    Atheists are considered dicks for nothing more than putting up a billboard that says “We exist and are good people”.  Simply being unapologetically visible and not evil is enough to challenge their faith, and with the state of religious and especially Christian privilege even the slightest challenge is seen as an open “dickish” attack.

    Besides which, a nativity is a twofold insult to non-believers and non-christians.  1) Believe this or burn in hell (directly implied because that is the foundation of that religion) and 2) Know all men by these religious displays on public property that Christianity is the Official Religion of the United States of America, Christians are first-class citizens with special privileges to use the government to endorse and/or fund their religious beliefs and expressions thereof, and that non-Christians are relegated to second-class status (if that).

    They could keep their religious beliefs and expressions where they belong, on church property or private property, and  they could avoid being challenged like this.   But for some reason they think their already-omnipresent faith doesn’t really count and isnt’ being fully expressed if they aren’t getting government endorsement for it, and/or if there are a few square feet of public land that they are not allowed to smear with Jesus.  They started the pissing contest and they can end it any time.  How often do you see atheists vying to put this stuff up in a place where they limit government holiday displays to secular images and sentiments?  Why do you think that only happens where believers are illegally garnering government endorsement?

    I think they need to be offended, so they can see why that whole church/state separation thing is a good thing and important.  Their displays are every bit as offensive to a lot of non-christians and non-believers, and wasn’t there something in their religion about “do unto others” or is that just something they trot out to show how moral they are in an argument  but rarely actually live by?

    Unfortunately,  much like my brother’s abominable wife, I doubt they’ll learn a damn thing.  They’re not mad because of the “mean” signs, they’re mad because someone else gets a share in the sweet government endorsement deal and especially because that someone else is an atheist.  You’d have a fruit loop with a sign outside a Wiccan or Muslim display too, if there weren’t atheists in the mix to distract them (nothing makes the faiths forget their differences like the existence of atheists).

  • alphabetsoupofsomething

    If they want to keep the spots they won legally and fairly, even if they keep them empty, that’s their prerogative and there’s nothing ‘mean-spirited’ about it. They don’t need to give into every over-emotional whim of others, and they shouldn’t.

    Anyway, I want a dinosaur display!

  • Rich Wilson

    An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.  There’s a difference between assertively sticking up for yourself and being aggressively vengeful.  Nobody likes a the dog in a manger.

  • Nate Bloodrocuted Yarborough

    It’s simple. Any display that is not explicitly Christian is an offense to them and counts as “squelching their First Amendment rights.” Fundies have always hidden by the First Amendment to promote bigotry. What they really mean is that anyone who stands up to them is infringing on the delusion that Christians own America and everyone else should take a back seat.

  • Rich Wilson

    Keep in mind we lost Scopes.  It wasn’t until 1958 that Evolution was officially supported in curriculum.

  • thomask

    Which mythology do you mean? Should we also tech the Hindu, Norse and Chinese explanations for creation? And why even stop there? There are probably thousands more. Leave religion where it belongs, outside of government institutions.

  • thomask

    Which mythology do you mean? Should we also tech the Hindu, Norse and Chinese explanations for creation? And why even stop there? There are probably thousands more. Leave religion where it belongs, outside of government institutions.

  • Anonymous

    Shorter Christian Complaint: “Help! Help! We’re being oppressed!”

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, the Wiccans/Pagans/Heathens (did I forget anyone? If so, I’m sorry.) don’t mind atheists.

    It’s the monotheist my-way-or-burn types that have “issues”.

  • Charles Black

    Heres another way to make Christians look bad. Hold a gay pride rally & provoke them into attacking us so that they look like the enemy.

  • humble_atheist

    But, why give it to them? Every think that maybe having nothing in the other spaces is an expression of an atheist’s beliefs?

    Besides, what’s stopping Christians or any other religion group by expressing themselves in other ways?

    It’s not cruel or bullying. It’s fair. They won the right to use their spaces as they see fit. If christians won the right to all the spaces, do you think they’d generously offer a couple to the atheists? Hardly.

  • Ryan Casey

    I do wish the atheists in Santa Monica had been more creative with their display. A simple, inflammatory statement on a sign attached to a chain link fence does more to harm our cause than help it, I think. In ousting superstition, we ought to be careful to not also oust beauty.

  • Ryan Casey

    I do wish the atheists in Santa Monica had been more creative with their display. A simple, inflammatory statement on a sign attached to a chain link fence does more to harm our cause than help it, I think. In ousting superstition, we ought to be careful to not also oust beauty.

  • Emilycantu5

    because it would be too difficult to teach every single religion (there are thousand). Or were you assuming only Christianity and Catholicism… Bet ya were

  • Emilycantu5

    because it would be too difficult to teach every single religion (there are thousand). Or were you assuming only Christianity and Catholicism… Bet ya were

  • Sinfanti

    I think at least one of the unused spaces should have a Christmas tree accompanied by a history of the tradition behind it.  Too many people have forgotten that many things we associate with Christmas have no historical relation to Christianity.  Some festive, yet gentle, reminders would be nice.

  • Sinfanti

    Perhaps it could be part of a bigger “Reason Behind the Season” theme.  It could  include history for Santa Claus and an explanation of why the holiday is celebrated on Dec. 25, a date that has no mention in the bible whatsoever.

  • Sinfanti

    Perhaps it could be part of a bigger “Reason Behind the Season” theme.  It could  include history for Santa Claus and an explanation of why the holiday is celebrated on Dec. 25, a date that has no mention in the bible whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    I’m assuming the Christians prayed to win the lottery and God was too busy helping Tebow to put the fix in for them.

  • Anonymous

    I’m assuming the Christians prayed to win the lottery and God was too busy helping Tebow to put the fix in for them.

  • GaR

    I didn’t realise all this fuss was over some ugly cages.

  • GaR

    I didn’t realise all this fuss was over some ugly cages.

  • Dave Churvis

    Definitely agreed.  I also kinda feel like they had such a missed opportunity to engage with the community – they could have found some freethought-related message to put in each one of their additional fifteen spots but they didn’t.

  • Nyxynox

    I think the unused sites should be given back to the city to be randomly assigned not give them to the Christians.  Maybe a pagan group didn’t get one and they now could have a chance to display something. 

    If this truly is a war between atheists and Christians and other Abrahamic Religions, as it seems to be, please leave the other religions alone!

  • Nyxynox

    I think the unused sites should be given back to the city to be randomly assigned not give them to the Christians.  Maybe a pagan group didn’t get one and they now could have a chance to display something. 

    If this truly is a war between atheists and Christians and other Abrahamic Religions, as it seems to be, please leave the other religions alone!

  • Violet Evil

    Even god hates christians

  • Violet Evil

    God sucks at throwing the lottery in favor of his followers, just like he sucks at growing back amputee’s arms and legs.

  • KNB

    If he’d wanted us to think, he’d have given us brains with analytical capabilities…

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post! And this has also got me thinking that I’m going to wish people “Seasons Greetings”, instead of “Merry Christmas” from now on.

  • enuma

    I know.  I just find the length of the legal discourse to be ridiculous.  Evolution should have put on the curriculum 87 years ago.  It takes about five minutes of thinking to realize that Creationism is not a scientific theory.

  • SJH

    Whether they have that right is debatable and it would be argued by many that Christians have a right to use public space to express themselves. Your statement is not accepted by everyone to be true so I don’t think it is wise to communicate it as an absolute truth rather than a debated issue.

    Regarding your belief that Christians are pushing non-believers, I think that you are misunderstanding the motives of most Christians. Some may be imposing but most simply want to celebrate a belief that they are passionate about. There is nothing wrong with that. If an atheist group wants to celebrate a belief in something then it would be perfectly fine to develop a tradition and a statement of belief that is a positive one (not negative, ie. God does not exist) and celebrate it with passion. However you do not have to rain on someone else’s parade to do it.

  • Lola

    I’m happy to see the Happy Solstice sign. I’m tired of the signs that are only up to be argumentative. It’s nice to see one that shows we can enjoy a generally happy season in this country without needing to subscribe to the Christian belief system. (I prefer to wish people a Happy Saturnalia throughout December)

  • Anonymous

    I see what you did there!

  • Jesse

    After considerable digging, I found some documents on the Santa Monica government’s site explaining more about the process:

    I’ll post more as I find them.

  • Jesse

    The relevant formal name of the display spots is: “unattended winter displays”.

    Here’s a memo from 2005 proposing extending the permitted period slightly (not particularly interesting, but might as well mention it):

     Here the memo from 2003 setting up the current regulations:

    The relevant law seems to be: Ordinance Number 2095 (CCS).

    Here’s a memo explaining why the 2003 regulations were set up: It seems to be based on a court case: American Jewish Congress v. City of
    Beverly Hills, 90 F.3d 379 (9th Cir. 1996)Another memo discussing the proposed regulations in 2003: memo I linked to above, from 2011, seems to be the only one discussing the current year’s process. It states that the lottery was held on May 5th, that applications are due on Feb 15th, and that a site plan was due on Oct 15th (a change from the previous deadline of two weeks before Nov 27th).

  • Jesse

    Apparently, arguments over this have been going on for decades: discusses a celebration of the Winter Solstice by the local Atheists United chapter next to the nativity dioramas. 

  • Jesse
  • Rich Wilson

    In particular I see:

    NOTE:  Spaces are intended for the installation of unattended displays.  Failure to install a display in each of the assigned spaces will effect an applicant’s space allocation for the following year.  More specifically, provided an application has been filed in accordance with established policy and space is available for the following year, an applicant will be assigned no more than the number of spaces actually utilized for displays the previous year unless exigent circumstances beyond the applicant’s control prevented the applicant from utilizing all the spaces that had been assigned in the previous year.

    I sure won’t be surprised if I see council implement a rule that allows for unused spaces to be reclaimed in the same season.

  • Lesondemavie

    How about something wintery that we can all regardless of faith or lack thereof can enjoy?  A snow covered forest?  Skiing?  Ice Skating?  A snowflake?  A loving family eating dinner together?  I think the message that you can be an atheist and still enjoy and appreciate life for what it is needs to be put out there more.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t help but wonder what happens next year, when a vastly greater number of Christians apply, and probability is on *their* side. What if they win all the spots?

    I do not expect anybody to be a good sport about it, and for good reason.

  • TexasTom

    How sad and pathetic – clearly the atheists were doing this out of spite (the Winter Solstice is an example – they are putting up a sign celebrating a spirituality they don’t believe in just to be pains in the ass).  And then atheists wonder why they are vilified.  They are poor, misguided people who lead sad useless lives.

  • TexasTom

    And by the way, many Christians believe in evolution.  I do.

  • Anonymous

    But the dog is so cute!

    (Here, plastic baby Jesus is the “dog in the manger”, when the manger could serve to keep an actual dog warm.)

  • Zoop

    I see you don’t have to be a resident  there to apply. Atheists could still get the spots next year if we all submitted an application which is easily available through the interweb.