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One of the nativity scenes at Palisades Park on display last Christmas. City Council’s unanimous voted June 12 put an end to the nearly 60-year tradition.
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One of the nativity scenes at Palisades Park on display last Christmas. City Council’s unanimous voted June 12 put an end to the nearly 60-year tradition.

News, City Council, Santa Monica, Courts

Federal Judge Sides With City Of Santa Monica Regarding Nativity Scenes

News Update

Posted Nov. 19, 2012, 2:08 am

Brenton Garen / Editor-in-Chief

Updated Monday, Nov. 19 - 12:30 p.m.

A federal judge sided with the City of Santa Monica at a hearing Monday morning where a lawyer on behalf of supporters of Santa Monica Nativity scenes in Palisades Park was asking for the annual Christmas tradition to be allowed until the outcome of a lawsuit is decided.

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted June 12 to prohibit erected structures to be on display at Palisades Park. Accordingly, a Christmas tradition that has existed in Santa Monica decades before many current residents moved into town will no longer be allowed to take place.

Specifically, the council’s action prohibited the display of nativity scenes at Palisades Park, a tradition that has been allowed by City Hall for nearly 60 years.

Until last year, displays depicting the birth of Jesus Christ were allowed at Palisades Park as part of an exception to the general citywide rule prohibiting the erection of structures in public parks.

For decades, City Hall allowed religious institutions to use Palisades Park to erect unattended displays during the Christmas season. Through 2010, the City Hall exception was utilized by groups or churches wishing to celebrate the birth of Christ as told in the gospels of Luke and Matthew and presented the popular manger scene in diorama form.

Three-dimensional statutes of a baby Jesus surrounded by Joseph, Mary, and various angels and shepherds attracted many onlookers to a popular stretch of Ocean Boulevard.

Other displays existed as well, promoting the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, for example. There were also atheist and solstice displays.

However, as Christmas 2011 approached, the number of groups requesting use of Palisades Park under the City Hall exception far exceeded the space available. Local officials resorted to a lottery system to determine who would be entitled to set up a display.

The lottery was employed “in order to allocate display opportunities in an unbiased manner.”

“This was done to effectuate First Amendment requirements of neutrality and thereby avoid legal risks,” staff said.

City Hall’s initial decision sparked a controversy, particularly because the groups displaying nativity scenes at Palisades Park now had stiff competition for space. Due to the lottery system, “most spaces being allocated (were) to displays that opposed religion,” staff added.

The issue almost immediately becoming tense with differing groups hoping to put up a winter display of some sort during the Christmas season, City Hall began to contemplate whether to eliminate its exception altogether and extend the strict prohibition against private displays in public spaces within Santa Monica at Palisades Park.

Post a comment


Nov. 19, 2012, 11:24:16 am

Kathleen Brooks said...

I was born in Santa Monica and lived there until I was 15. I remember walking in the Pacific Palisades Park with my parents to see the beautiful Nativity Display during the Christmas season. It was one of my most happy and vivid childhood memories. I also remember the big red bells that were hung in the downtown area. So sad to think that it is now politically incorect to diplay a nativity scene but it is fine to buy marajuana anywhere you want. Can the Nativity Scene really be such a bad thing? I don't think so!

Nov. 19, 2012, 12:04:19 pm

mangeleno said...

So now the atheists have succeeded in using the First Amendment to create the very conditions that the First Amendment was intended to protect. Only a pinhead in a black silk robe could fail to see that the agenda of the non-believers is to institutionalize atheism as the state "religion". However, as the Court has spoken, then we, as good citizens, must defer to the Court's "wisdom". Toward that end, the coalition of Churches should erect their displays on private property. Specifically, the displays should be erected on the grounds of whichever member Church has the longest frontage on the busiest commercial street in Santa Monica. Let's use such a display on private property to bring Wilshire Blvd to a standstill - lawfully, and in full compliance with the Court's guidance. Let's use the spirit of "don't get mad - get even!" to bring back the spirit of "Peace on Earth - good will toward mankind"

Nov. 19, 2012, 2:59:34 pm

Justme said...

I'm a jew who supports separation of church and state, but I don't have objections to religious organizations temporarily "leasing" public space for temporary holiday displays.

Nov. 19, 2012, 6:48:00 pm

stewart said...

'it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty Gods or no God, It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg'-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782 But of course the tyranny of the majority as the long held SMRR elected council represents was something that Jefferson was never to have had to deal with right?

Nov. 19, 2012, 7:23:49 pm

Charles Kayser said...

What would happen to the attacks on religious symbols in our public squares if such attacks would always cause a community reaction like this: Individuals in parking lots and on streets handed out to citizenry yard signs, bumper stickers, business cards, pins, and T-Shirts proclaiming Yeshua/Jesus as foretold, crucified, resurrected, and returning. Copies could be made of items from ZAZZLE.COM/HARPAZO*? Just wondering,

Nov. 20, 2012, 2:34:18 am

Nan Jefferies said...

Another blow for freedom of speech under the guise of ... I don't know what. Freedom of speech lost through bullying? Register some serious outrage. Start a boycott. Don't shop in Santa Monica.

Nov. 20, 2012, 4:59:26 am

Jami Snyder said...

You must be joking!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I guess this really is SOVIET MONICA.

Nov. 20, 2012, 5:12:59 am

Jonathan Mann said...

If there really was a Messiah, and he was resurrected again in the 21st century, he would be disgusted with all the evil done in his name...

Nov. 20, 2012, 2:21:05 pm

Caroline said...

how sad this was a;ways one of my favorite parts of Christmas in santa Monica

Nov. 26, 2012, 3:45:34 pm

Jeebuss said...

You can still see some bearded homeless guy wandering around and ranting that he is Jesus. Isn't that good enough for you simpletons?

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