For nearly 6 decades, Christmastime nativity scenes have been on display Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, but now atheist messages (or nothing at all) have replaced the traditional Christmas scenes.
Local churches have normally used 14 of the 21 Palisades Park display spaces to illustrate the story of the birth of Jesus Christ via life-size nativity scenes. But this year, atheists managed to get all but three of the spaces through a new city lottery system.
The Santa Monica Daily Press reported that churches had little or no competition for the spaces during the past 57 years. However, this year, 13 people (mostly atheists) bid for spaces, prompting City Hall to use a random lottery system to allot the spots.
“Our belief is that these new applicants have been working together to displace and push out the nativity scenes from the park, rather than erecting a full display of their own,” said Hunter Jameson, a spokesman for a coalition of the city’s churches.
Damon Vix, who doesn’t live in Santa Monica, helps other atheists populate Palisades Park spaces, including American Atheists Inc. and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“For 60 years, it’s almost exclusively been the point of view of Christians putting up nativity scenes for a whole city block,” Vix said.
Jameson pushed the city to give “local preference” in awarding the spaces.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie wrote, however, that the Christmastime displays cross the boundary into First Amendment rights, which know no geographical boundaries: “Everyone has equal rights to use the streets and parks for expressive activities, irrespective of residency."