Months After Atheists Won Lottery to Put Up Holiday Displays, a City Has Decided to Ban Displays Altogether

Remember how city officials in Santa Monica, California had a lottery last winter to determine who could put up holiday displays?

Atheists won 18 of the 21 slots (though they only used 3 of them):

A Jewish group won one slot. And Christians won the remaining two — which made it difficult to put up a Nativity Scene that used to take up 14 spots.

As you can imagine, the Christians were pissed off. They weren’t used to this “fair” system in which everyone’s beliefs were treated equally. Where was their privilege?!

Yesterday, the City Council met to decide the fate of the displays for this coming year: Do you risk having another lottery (with angry losers)? Or do you ban the displays altogether?

It turned out to be an easy vote:

Council members said the tradition should continue, but on private property. “We’re not shutting down speech in Palisades Park,” said Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

The vote was 5-0

There will be no public holiday displays this year in Palisades Park. Smart move on the City Council’s part.

All it took to force the change was atheists taking part in the system. No lawsuits. No arguments. Just putting their names into the same lottery as everybody else.

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.

  • Zeggman

    Reading the “tweet” that brought me here, I thought the atheists had won the lottery for this coming Christmas, and the city had decided to drop the displays rather than letting them erect one. I was all set to wonder whether there would be another lottery next year, and displays would be allowed if the results were less secular.

    I’m surprised the atheists won so many of the open spots last year, but I won’t speculate on how that might have happened. I’m also surprised that the churches which wanted to erect displays this year didn’t have several members of each congregation participate in the lottery, insuring that the atheists would be lucky to get even one of the open spots.

    Anyway, the decision to keep all displays on private land, and leave this particular park open for the homeless to spread their sleeping bags, was the right one.

    • Keith

      If I remember correctly, the atheist group gamed the system by flooding the lottery with entries. In previous years the city only received entries from the religious groups, so there was really no competition.

  • Annie

    Good news!  On private land, where they belong.  Well done, Santa Monica atheists!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H43BEIPJPBYURE4HOVHX7H2WOI Rick T

    Excellent.  A win for the separation of church and state.

  • Alex

    I need to save this one for next time somebody starts whining about the government suppressing their freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There’s just no winning with that crowd, is there?

  • articulett

    I approve! Tit for tat is an excellent way for getting Christians to quit asking for privileges they’d not grant to others.

    (I wonder what they’d do if Muslim students started reciting The Pledge by saying “One nation, under Allah…”)

  • http://twitter.com/Buffy2q Buffy

    “All it took to force the change was atheists taking part in the system.”

    Indeed, that’s usually takes.  Christians preach about “free speech”–unless anybody else wants to participate.

  • Offlogic

    Santa Monica, what took you so long?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    Not to mention that it looks pretty gross having caged in areas all over a park.

  • Blairbeartyme

    As an atheist I’m not a fan of the nativity scene but I still celebrate Christmas as a time to be with family and eat ridiculous amounts of food and exchange presents.  Why can’t neutral decorations be allowed? Or, well….crap I don’t know how to come up with a perfect plan either but getting rid of all public Christmas (or Hanuka, or Kwanzaa, or whatever) decorations just seems sad some how.  I LIKE that time of year, despite it having no religious implications for me or my family, and I miss the sparkle and magic when it’s no longer allowed in public.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

      I think it would be based on the Rosenberger v. UVA decision. Allowing only “neutral” decorations and prohibiting religious decorations would be prohibited infringement of Free Speech rights, discriminating based on whether there was sectarian religious content.

      Mind you, I consider that one of the most incoherently reasoned decisions the court has put out, but we’re kind of stuck with the ruling for the moment.

  • Grichardt

    This is reminiscent of Hendersonville, Tennessee’s actions after the Pastafarions decided to put up a Xmas season FSM display since any religion could.  Once was enough then Hendersonville banned all religious displays on public property.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1422306298 Taryn Will Torres

    I guess its fair decision. but it’s really hard to see traditional things being taken away. As a Catholic it bothers me.  But i can see the point they are making.  Still doesn’t make it easy to accept.

    • Hesse

      Tradition is the enemy of progress, and progress is the enemy of tradition. As an Atheist, it bothers me that I have to hear and see everyone’s beliefs, unquestioned, and I’m not supposed to say anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    I’d bet a dollar that this isn’t over yet, and that before Christmas someone is going to raise hue and cry at a meeting, demanding that the board revise the policy yet again so that the Nativity scene can still be in the park.

  • http://twitter.com/HoltonMusicMan Randall W. Bond

    If this was “fair” how did a minority group get 18 of the 21 slots?

    • Annie

      Because apparently the Christians didn’t understand how a simple lottery works… and the atheists assumed they did, and played accordingly.


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