Federal Judge Upholds Santa Monica’s Decision, So Palisades Park Goes Naked This Year UPDATED

Last year, one of four Christian displays for Christmas along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park

It’s basically the scorched earth policy of tolerance, as the Santa Monica City Council banned all holiday decorations in a decision made back in June. Jenna Chandler of the Santa Monica Patch brings us up to speed on the courts’ decision today.

Federal judge denies request from local Christian group to allow the life-size dioramas at Palisades Park this Christmas. “There are multiple opportunities” for individuals or groups to put up displays on private property, city attorney says.

Santa Monica will not be forced to reopen spaces at Palisades Park to private holiday displays—including Christmas Nativity scenes—a federal judge said Tuesday, according to City News Service.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied a request for an injunction that would require the city to allow the dioramas to be displayed at the scenic seaside park over the holiday season while the case proceeds. She set a Dec. 3 hearing on a dismissal motion brought by the city.

The judge said the Christian group retains the right to present its Nativity scene on private property and other locations throughout Santa Monica.

In its lawsuit against the city, the Santa Monica’s Nativity Committee, a nonprofit association of 13 local churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, said the City Council’s June decision to outlaw displays infringed on its members First Amendment rights and is “hostile to the Christian religion and our nation’s religious heritage.”

William Becker, the attorney for the group, told the Associated Press he will appeal.

“The atheists won and they will always win unless we get courts to understand how the game is played and this is a game that was played very successfully and they knew it,” Becker told the AP after the hearing.

The Nativity display was first placed at the park in 1953.

In the past couple of years, the city began receiving an unusually high number of requests to erect all sorts of displays. To accommodate all of the requests and to be more inclusive, it held a lottery in 2011.

But the Nativity Committee, which in the past had been allocated 14 spaces each year, was awarded only three plots. The other winners posted signs such as one that read “Happy Solstice” while most of the other spaces were never decorated.

St. Monica. You know, St. Augustines’ mom…

Read the rest.

It makes you wonder how much longer Saint Monica’s statue will be allowed to remain in the city too.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Rainey notes the bittersweet passing of this tradition.

Honestly, it sounds like something right out of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

 More cynical times would dictate that the Nativities eventually would have to be protected with cyclone-style fencing, to keep vandals from attempting to reconfigure the greatest story ever told. Before the fencing, wiseacres might tear off one of the wise men’s beards or tape it to Mary’s chin. The manger donkey could end up in a compromising position.

Our yearly tour of the Santa Monica Nativities would be highlighted by my father’s dramatic reading of the story of the Christ child’s arrival. The bearded mannequins offended or threatened one of our dogs, Mugs, who would punctuate the readings with nearly constant barking.

Now all that’s gone, partly because times change things but also because the law says one good religious display in a public place invites another, or at least another alternative. Atheists objected that the Nativity tradition. So, last year, the city decided the best way to resolve the standoff was to use a lottery to randomly assign 21 plots for holiday season displays. The atheists won 18 spots. A Jewish group snagged a spot for a menorah. The Christian group had its expansive multi-scene display reduced to just two spots.

The Christians felt their tradition had been “hijacked,” as one said. One atheist group simply left its spot empty. Santa Monica found itself going to a lot of trouble to accommodate some groups that didn’t give much in return.

So this year the city decided it wouldn’t accommodate any holiday displays in Palisades Park. That led to the legal challenge from the Nativity group that Judge Audrey B. Collins ruled on Monday. Collins denied a request from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to return to the Nativity tradition.

The ban on holiday representations in the park is not absolute. The city would allow groups to install such scenes again, as long as an attendant remains with the display. The idea is that people won’t put up something offensive, if they are required to stand by their work.

The city also has no say over churches, homes and other private locations, where Santa Monicans can display all the Christian iconography they want. So it would be hard to argue — though some surely will — that the city has launched a “war on Christmas.”

Still, it will be hard to be in Santa Monica in December without the slow cruise down Ocean Avenue past those frozen figures, totems of many Christmases past.

And so the War on Christmas rages on. You never know, though. Maybe homeowners will decorate their neighborhoods in a manner that will take the cruise off of Ocean Avenue and direct it elsewhere. They could even get some pointers from the good folks in Altadena on Christmas Tree Lane.

Take a look at Terry Mattingly’s Accurate Holiday Wars Update from Santa Monica!

  • Brian Westley

    The war on Christmas rages on? What was it for 60 or so years when the Christians got to use a public park for their views and nobody else did? The war on the first amendment?

    • Frank Weathers

      People were perhaps just celebrating Christmas.

      • Brian Westley

        “celebrating just Christmas” would be more accurate.

        When, exactly, did this turn into a “war on Christmas”?
        1) When Damon Vix approached the city council about getting public space in 2009 and got a display place?
        2) When he did the same in 2010?
        3) When the city decided on a lottery system and atheists won most of them in 2011?
        4) When the city decided the lottery system took too much time and money to administer and stopped allowing permanent displays?

        Notice that atheists likewise don’t get permanent displays under the latest change. Everyone is being treated the same, including members of other religions. The only reason you consider it a “war on Christmas” seems to be because Christians undeservedly were given carte blanche for 60 years, and a level playing field now looks slanted to you.

        • http://www.patheos.com Deacon Tom

          Atheists like you must really think Christians are stupid. Your idea of level playing field is no playing field at all. Atheists achieved their goal here–a complete absence of religion in the public square, regardless of the history and traditions in Santa Monica for Christmas obviously enjoyed by many people, religious or not. By the way, just what does an atheist celebrate at Christmas?

          • Brian Westley

            “Your idea of level playing field is no playing field at all.”

            That was the decision of the city council. No playing field for anyone is, of course, a level playing field, but so is a public forum open to everyone instead of just members of the local majority religion.

            “Atheists achieved their goal here–a complete absence of religion in the public square”

            Funny, I could swear there were churches around there… if you mean specifically public property, there are a lot of public parks that don’t allow unattended displays.

            “By the way, just what does an atheist celebrate at Christmas?”

            Some do, some don’t. I visit family, eat lots of food, and exchange presents, typically.

      • MikeyM

        I encourage everyone who wishes to celebrate Christmas to do so. But the government of Santa Monica is wise to stay out of the business of endorsing religion.

  • Rusty Yates

    I think the city is wise on this one. It never should have promoted Christianity in the first place.

  • Frank Weathers

    Post updated with a piece from Terry Mattingly. Check it out and keep the peace. :)

  • Victor

    “And it’s one that’s getting nasty.” OH! I hope that we never see that Day where we start putting Christians to death Victor?! :)

    Don’t be silly sinner vic! That could never happen in The Twenty First Century if GOD (Good Old Dad) is for REAL otherwise then there’s nothing wrong with waking UP Christians to the fact of reality that the real gods are alien spiritual cells and Christians are nothing but puppets on a string for these invisible forces.

    STOP THAT Victor! You’re not helping here! :(