After Atheists Were Treated Fairly by City Officials, Christians Are Suing to Get Special Privilege

Last year in Santa Monica, California, a lot of people entered a lottery to determine who would get to put up holiday displays in the 21 lots in Palisades Park. As it turned out, a lot of the applicants were atheists. When all was said and done, they won 18 of the 21 spaces. Christians won 2 of the remaining spots and a Jewish person won 1.

These are some of the signs the atheists put up:

(Many of the signs that weren’t protected by chains were later vandalized.)

As you might expect, Christians were pissed off. Their regular display had taken up 14 plots, but they had to cut it and cram it down into only two.

Caught in the middle of the “controversy” were city officials. They were accused of being anti-Christian when, in fact, they were only being fair to everybody. The Christians didn’t own the public space; they were just used to getting special treatment. When other groups indicated they wanted in on the action, the Christians felt their rights were being stripped — in reality, all that was taken away from them was the notion that they were special.

This year, Santa Monica officials decided to do away with the lottery system altogether. They just won’t have any holiday displays at all — it’s better than being accused of being for or against any particular group.

I’m fine with that decision. If Christians want to put up a Nativity Scene, they can do it on private property, in front of their homes or churches. There’s no reason the city needs to give them space to promote the Jesus myth.

But the Christians in this case aren’t taking this lack of privilege lightly. Today, they’ll be in federal court because they’re suing the city for not letting them put up a Nativity Scene:

“It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn’t trump the Christians’ right to free speech.

“If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they’re free to do that — but they can’t interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum,” said William Becker, attorney for the committee. “Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive.”

Tradition isn’t always right. Becker is suing because he thinks Christians deserve a unique space, paid for by taxpayers, to spread their beliefs — and no other group deserves those same rights. Atheists can protest, in his view, but they shouldn’t get the same opportunity to put up their displays on public property.

Just to reiterate, what did the atheists do? They entered a lottery that Christians could have also entered. They were treated like all the other groups. And that’s not good enough for the Christians who are now suing.

Becker said this on his own website back in October:

“The city surrendered to the angry mob, and in the process sent the world a message that religious freedom and free speech is not worth protecting in Santa Monica. We expect the court to see it for what it is — an unconstitutional act of intolerance toward the Christian faith and a cowardly concession to anti-Christian hatemongers.

There was no intolerance. Or hate. Or anti-Christian sentiments. Or anything unconstitutional.

The Christians never complained when they were the only game in town and had full access to the park. The moment the city said they had to share the space with other groups, the whining began. And now, we’re seeing the Christians tears of false persecution.

Hopefully, the judge will see right through them and respect the separation of church and state. The city officials have every right to cancel a tradition that never should have started in the first place and the constitution is on their side.

(via Atheist Lutheran)

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.

  • SeekerLancer

    This was on the front page of my local paper for some demented reason, with the story presented in favor of the Christians, complete with the usual crying about this being “a tradition for 60 years” and how it’s “such a shame we live in a world where people don’t like baby Jesus.”

    • Sparky43PA

      Wait, we do love the baby Jebus…deep fried with cocktail sauce!

  • Silver_fox-trot

    I…wait….wha?? Why is he suing?? It seems to me that any competant lawyer would point out the obvious flaws in his plan. So either he didn’t seek advice from someone who is dedicated to aquieing knowledge in a specialized field and is representing himself based on what he thinks he know (shocker, I know), or he decided that after (all) the lawyers laughed him out of their office that they were probably god-hating muslim atheist (spelling intentional) and that they /really/ didn’t know anything about the law.

    Either that, or his lawyer is as intellectually honest as he is.

    I don’t know what frightens me more.

    • Renshia

      They’re just lining their pockets and thinking if they want to waste the money on a losing battle, then they might as well be the ones to benefit from it. Maybe the lawyers an atheist and are thinking this is just a good transference of wealth.

    • Coyotenose

       Some lawyers think “Well, he’s going to find somebody to represent him in his sure-to-fail lawsuit, so why shouldn’t I be the one collecting the check?” That of course doesn’t mean the lawyer is unethical or won’t do his/her job to the best of his abilities, but he/she doesn’t have to be convinced of the case to do that job.

      And on the other hand, I know a lawyer who represented two people he knew to be child-abusing drug dealers who hired him to help them evade paying contractual child support for the specific reason of hurting the child’s mother by starving her and the child. Not that they couldn’t pay, but that they wanted the mother to suffer for made-up reasons. And said lawyer apparently thought he’d win. Man he looked pissed while her attorney spent two days shredding him nonstop and wrecking his credibility by making him look like a dimwit. But at least he got paid, lolrite?

      Meanwhile the mother’s attorney looked so good that two other people in the courtroom actually came over and asked for her card. ^.^

      • amycas

         If it is frivolous, then most states have rules that punish attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Sixty years isn’t a tradition, it’s a habit.

     - Yours fondly, Europe.

  • allein

    “something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born”

    I think this is my favorite line.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      I’m imagining Him using His X-Ray vision inside the Holy womb and then steering Mary by applying pressure to Her ribs and bladder.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Or kicking her in the kidneys?

    • Coyotenose

       I love that because they forgot to include the word “how” in there, they’re actually calling Unborn Baby Jesus With Manger Radar Action a “something”.

      • allein

        Ha! I didn’t even catch that! That makes it even better :)

  • Luther

    “an unconstitutional act of intolerance toward the Christian faith and a cowardly concession to anti-Christian hatemongers.“

    Anyone see any Christian hatemongers seeking concessions?

    • Zugswang

       I think I see some scary-looking strawmen off in the distance…

    • Coyotenose

       I’m not following you here.

  • WoodwindsRock

    “The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit
    that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn’t trump
    the Christians’ right to free speech.”

    …Free speech? This isn’t about free speech. But they’d, of course, love to make it out like it is, so they can easily manipulate people to get behind their cause.

    • Guilberube

      Exactly. Its not about free speach its about government sanctioned speech.

    • Coyotenose

       Yeah, they always play the Free Speech Card, and it almost never applies. Miserable liars.

  • observer

    “You’re confusing a war on your religion with not always getting what you want.” ~ Jon Stewart

    Seriously, if someone is complaining about religious persecution because they don’t get things their way, that’s a clue they care more about the privileges religion brings rather then the point of the religion.

  • Revyloution

    Glad they canceled it.  That chain link cage is hideous, no matter what message or display is inside.

    • Helanna

      Indeed. Why would you ruin the park with a bunch of ugly cages anyway? Replace them with normal winter decorations, sheesh, lights and garlands and wreaths and whatnot. Prettier than the cages and nobody has to see any religious messages when they just want to walk through the damn park. 

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Wow. I picked this up from Fox News (my favorite hunting ground for religious stories), and I thought the slanted reporting (specifically the first line about “pushing Christmas out of Santa Monica,” as if Christmas trees and caroling were now banned) was a good example of Fox News’ usual bias. But now I see it’s an AP article, and you found it in the Washington Post. It’s truly sad when I can’t tell a Fox News article from an AP article.

  • A3Kr0n

    Christians sure can be a snotty bunch, can’t they?

  • roz77

    While I agree this is a frivolous lawsuit, I’d like to point out that a sign saying “Religions are all alike- founded on fables and mythologies” is NOT a holiday sign, and is intentionally insulting. Being assholes is no way to show people that atheists are actually nice people.

    • Ibis3

       I felt they wasted the opportunity. They ought to have put up a bunch of wintry, scientific, and paganish displays: a snowman, Santa & elves, a Christmas tree, a Sol Invictus tribute, maybe a model of the solar system showing the solstices/equinoxes, an exhibit outlining the  history of the solstice holiday. Lots of work, but I think it would have been appreciated by the public and would have demonstrated the value of diversity. Instead, they gave everyone the middle finger, and now no one gets to play.

      • Artor

        I see your point, but I don’t think that approach would have changed the reaction at all. The Xtians would still be screaming bloody murder about how it was all an attack on their rights as Xtians. Once I decorated my storefront with a graphic and slogan, “Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season.” I got dozens of Xtians coming in to explain to me that no, it’s Jeebus, and besides, the Earth is closer to the sun during winter, so my graphic was wrong.
        They didn’t buy anything, of course.

        • http://profiles.google.com/sfjetland Serge Fjetland

          would it have changed anything? no.

          Would it have allowed the atheists an even higher road? yea!

          I would say we should take as many scenes as possible… and make em all about good cheer and knowledge, not about atheism!

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chad-Brown/513869003 Chad Brown

             Christians have attacked billboards that say you can be good without god as viciously hateful as they attack a billboard that intentionally makes fun of jesus.

            • Coyotenose

               True, but that in itself is not a reason to deliberately avoid the high road here.

          • Bryan

             Yep. A bus ad that simply said “Atheists” was taken down by the bus company, saying they don’t “accept ads which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.”

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/03/21/bus-company-again-rejects-ad-reading-simply-atheists/

        • Coyotenose

           Dozens? Sweet Jesus. How’d you find that many faux-persecuted religionists in one place who know what an axial tilt is?

          Also, if you ever do that again, please please PLEASE be wearing your horns and hooves when the naysayers come in.

          • Artor

            Xtians just think I’m Satan when I do that, and it’s not worth my time to explain it to them, since they still won’t understand. I’ve tried it a few times & it’s thoroughly unrewarding. 
            Aside from that, do you know who I am? You can’t see the hooves in my avatar pic, so I’m wondering how you know about them.

        • Marco Conti

          Not in Australia is not….

          • Artor

            I know that and you know that, but willfully ignorant anti-science Xtians don’t know that. Actually, as far as I know, the Earth is at perihelion during winter in the northern hemisphere. I could be wrong, but I can look it up if it becomes relevant, whereas the ignorant don’t even know what perihelion is, or how it’s different from aphelion.

            • appahl

               Yes, the Earth is at perihelion (closest to the sun) in January, while the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun; We’re furthest away from the sun in July, when the northern hemisphere is tilted toward  the sun; so that axial tilt is much more powerful to our change of seasons, than our change in distance from the sun.

              I am guessing that you understand that, and so I have no idea what point your customers are trying to make pulling “perihelion” out of their back pocket to prove you wrong about axial tilt.

              • Artor

                Oh, none of them knew the word, just the concept…approximately. After all, you move closer to a fire to get warmer, right? So the Earth MUST move closer to the sun to get warmer. But if someone gets all their “science” out of a Bible, they never learn things like axial tilt, or the fact that Santa wears Bermuda shorts in Australia, and rides a jet-ski.

        • allein

          I keep saying I’m going to do cards with that for my Christmas card exchange that I do…maybe next year…

          • amycas

             My sister and brother-in-law sent out Christmas cards last year that read,”Happy mid-winter feast and festival” or something to that effect.

            • allein

              I’m doing something I’m calling “stealth Christmas” cards this year. I have so many generic notecards and a ton of Christmas stickers (I need to learn to ignore the Current catalog post-holiday sales), so everyone on my card exchange is getting what looks like a plain old everyday card…until they open it. I have some actual Christmas cards leftover from past years so I’ll use those for my other friends.

      • SeekerLancer

        I always felt “Happy Solstice” was enough since it’s related to the holidays and a positive message that’s secretly even more insulting to Christians who know anything about the history of their holiday.

      • Coyotenose

         And now no one gets to play… now I wonder if that was the point of the insulting signage.

      • amycas

         I agree with this.

    • Bobby

      Refraining from stating an opinion because others might choose to take offense is an act of cowardice, not being an asshole.

      • roz77

        No it isn’t, it’s called being the better person. Atheists are fighting for acceptance. Intentionally insulting people is no way to  go about that. There is an appropriate way to criticize religion, but this is not it. Putting up a sign like this does nothing to further acceptance of atheists, it only serves to make us look like immature assholes.

        • Bobby

          Is that a two way street? If we’re constantly being told that Jeebus is the reason for the season are those doing that assholes? Or does it only apply to atheists. Hypocrisy anyone?

          • roz77

            Of course it’s a two way street. There’s a difference between a non-offensive religious holiday display and an offensive religious holiday display.

            • jeebusincarnate

              You’re not getting it. I’m sick of being bombarded with the “Jesus is the reason for the season” slogan and it’s offensive to me as I’m sick of it being jammed down my throat for 2 months out of every year. The sign that compares Christianity to mythology is simply pointing out the other opinion. It’s exactly the same as putting a statue of baby jesus on display; no difference.

              • roz77

                Of course I get it. I understand that there’s a difference between being an asshole about what you post and not being an asshole about what you post. I’m not saying that “Jesus is the reason for the season” is not offensive, I’m just saying the sign saying that religion is based on myth is a stupid holiday sign.

                • Isilzha

                   No, you DON’T get it! 

                • roz77

                  Wow, you really told me. I never said that signs christians posted weren’t offensive. I simply stated that putting up a holiday sign that intentionally insulting religion is not advancing public acceptance of atheism and it’s a dick thing to do. As people who pride themselves on being reasonable, we should be above that kind of behavior.

          • Coyotenose

             The hypocrisy is on their end. Not descending to their level is NOT hypocritical. Other people around you being immoral, unethical, or just assholes is simply not an excuse to be one yourself.

        • Isilzha

          No, there’s a way YOU think is the appropriate way.  However, I completely disagree.  I find that when someone takes a ridiculous position (and religion is at best ridiculous and at it’s worst, deeply harmful and a cancer on society), then I must take a stand and fight it. 

          I think it’s good for xians and others to hear that people find their bible to be immoral and nasty.  They need to know that those who are not religious refuse to cater to those who think their religion deserves special treatment and rights over others. 

          I’m an atheist, I don’t worship any gods or follow any religion.  I refuse to play along with anyone who insists that I have to adhere to any of their religious dictates.  And I CERTAINLY do NOT want any of  their nasty religion in my government.

          • roz77

            “I find that when someone takes a ridiculous position (and religion is at best ridiculous and at it’s worst, deeply harmful and a cancer on society), then I must take a stand and fight it. ”

            Honest question, do you just go around railing against religion whenever it’s mentioned?

            ” And I CERTAINLY do NOT want any of  their nasty religion in my government.”

            No kidding. Neither do I. That was not an issue I brought up.

            ” They need to know that those who are not religious refuse to cater to those who think their religion deserves special treatment and rights over others. ”

            Once again, I agree. Where are you getting this stuff? I simply said that we should criticize religion the right way and that putting up an intentionally insulting sign isn’t the right way to do it because it doesn’t accomplish anything.

    • Isilzha

      I find xians propensity to display devices of torture and execution to be deeply offensive.

  • Willy Occam

    It says something that the atheist signs had to be protected from (presumably Christian) vandals; I assume the Christian signs didn’t need any chain link fence to protect them from the atheists.  

    WWJD with a can of spray paint?

    • SeekerLancer

      They still had the fences up when they were used for nativity displays. To be fair nativity scenes are often the target of vandals (somebody steals the baby Jesus from the front of some church every year around here), it’s probably not because the vandals are atheists though.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

        Yeah… it’s probably kids who attend said church who run off with Baby Jesus.  Funny how teen pranks and things atheists are accused of are often quite similar.

        • Coyotenose

           Anecdotally, I understand that many, possibly most church vandals are younger members of the church.

      • Mottfolly

        I’m calling BS, I have never in my 68 years seen a nativity scene protected by a fence.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Romani ite domum

    • Thumper1990

      Even better, get your own back on the Christian displays… “WWJTD?” with a can of spraypaint.

  • houndies

    that is a facepalmer if ever there was one!! what a bunch of idiots! oh, wait, they’re christians…nuff said!

  • Baal
    “We expect the court to see it for what it is — an
    unconstitutional act of intolerance toward the Christian faith and a
    cowardly concession to anti-Christian hatemongers.“

    Demonize others much?  Also, lying.  I’m sure not all xtians are like this – particularly in their personal lives but the public face of xtianity to non-believers looks like this all too often.   I’d ask the moderate religionists to call on their brethren to keep to the facts and not grandstand vs a boogyman.

  • DougI

    The cry oppression when others are treated equally, imagine how much they’d whine if they were actually treated like they treat religious minorities.

  • C Peterson

    Judges have a good deal of discretion when it comes to deciding who pays in civil suits. In this case, the judge should send a strong message by dismissing the suit and requiring the complainant to pay not just the defendant’s legal costs, but also to pay the court costs.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I thought the lottery idea was a bad one anyways.
    There are 21 spaces, make a list of those spaces and check them off when a  group requests one, and only one.

    1 Christian display -check
    1 atheist display -check
    1 Islamic display- check
    etc.

    I doubt the city would even need all 21 spaces. they could fill up the extra space with paid advertisements for shopping at Walmart or something.

    • Isilzha

      Then you’re setting up the government to dictate a list of “appropriate” displays!  What if the committee doesn’t think an atheist display is appropriate?  What if they decide to feature a Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ, LDS, Pentecostal, Greek Orthodox, Islam (I’m sure there are sects to that), Jewish, Presbyterian, etc, etc, etc.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I don’t see why anyone would want their holy beliefs displayed in an ugly chain-link fence.
    This is just hideous. Who thought this was a good idea?
    If the city wants to be festive, they should put up lights on the trees and buildings. It looks nice and it can’t possibly offend anyone…oh wait, except for Christians who get pissy when they find out that they share the country with other people.

  • Stev84

    Just stop giving everyone displays. Problem solved.

    • Coyotenose

       They already did that. The Christians are pitching a hissy fit because they can’t tolerate that sort of equal treatment.

  • Stev84

    Just stop giving everyone displays. Problem solved.

  • Jason

    Just read an update.  Judge denies the bid of the nativity commision

  • TheLastConservative

    Its interesting to note that the first ever war on Christmas was by protestants upset other Christians were celebrating an originally pagan holiday.

  • Drakk

    “It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly
    60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home,
    something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the
    world was not interested.”

    They’re nothing alike. The person involved in the latter case didn’t exist.

    Unforrtunately, these people do.

  • Rwrockford

    Our numbers are growing and this threatens the cash machine that is organized religion. Heck, we may even be called the “secular right” some day…(influence politics anyone?)

  • shadowkatt

      Oh for crying out loud – its a PUBLIC PARK = NOT A Church owned park! PAYED FOR BY TAXPAYERS… oh wait churches dont PAY taxes…… so explain to me again just WHY they think they can do what ever they want?? 

    GOOD FOR YOU Santa Monica!! the churches screwed EVERYONE themselves included. Santa Monica BE SURE you make THAT point in particular.. STICK TO YOUR GUNS.. the city has more than enough to do than to waste time with this kind of GARBAGE…

    if you want a Religious decoration – DO IT ON YOUR OWN PROPERTY.. if you want  a NON religious (ie christian) DO IT ON YOUR OWN PROPERTY.. period. nuff said.


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