Six decades of Christmas spirit come to an end
After 60 years of tradition, there will not be a Christmas Nativity Display in Santa Monica this year. Monday, Judge Audrey Collins refused the request to allow the return of the nativity scenes. A lawsuit filed by the Nativity Scene Committee contends that the Santa Monica ban on unattended park displays, “billed as content neutral,” poses an unconstitutional infringement on the church group’s freedom of speech and expression of religion, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Several years ago, an atheist, Damon Vix, set up his anti-religious displays alongside the Christmas diorama. Vix decided to take it further and encourage more groups to apply for space. According to Hunter Jameson, head of the Nativity Committee, “the city allowed each applicant to apply for up to nine spaces and were saturated with applications.”
The secular groups received 18 of the 21 spaces and displayed signs that showed pictures of some anti-religious and secular exhibits. The San Diego News reported that these signs showed pictures of Jesus, Poseidon, Santa Claus and the devil. The sign said: “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?” The signs were vandalized and tempers flared.
The controversy ensued and the city decided it would be too costly. The San Diego News reported the lottery doubled its booth spaces, doubled its staff, and spent 245 hours annually running the system and reviewing applications. Then, in June, the city council voted to ban all unattended displays.
“The City had the right refuse any unattended displays at the park” said William Becker, attorney for Nativity Scenes Committee
“The birth of Jesus is a linchpin in our society. We set our calendar to it and it’s just not right to have a classic depiction of this nativity event denied, shunted or put aside,” Jameson said.
On Monday, Court Deputy City Attorney Yiben Shen reportedly said “the ban was under consideration for four years, but was too costly after the number of applicants spiked in recent years, “ according to the San Diego News.
Judge Collins banned the displays, reportedly, not to squash religious speech, but because it drained on the city’s resources, destroying turf and obstructing ocean views, according to the San Diego News. Collins reportedly said all the evidence that is admissible is about the “aesthetic impacts and administrative burdens” showing this is a reasonable alternative.
“I don’t know if appeal will make it after December 3. We won’t be seeking an emergency order from the ninth circuit. The displays won’t go up this year because it probably won’t be enough time,” Becker said, “A few people created the controversy and the city decided to sweep it aside.”
“It’s a sad day for Santa Monica, freedom of religion and free speech,” Jameson said.