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
AP PHOTO/RINGO H.W. CHIU

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.

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

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