Santa Monica’s ban on a nativity scene in Palisades Park was upheld by a conservative federal appeals panel on Thursday, April 30.
Once known as “The City of the Christmas Story,” Santa Monica had been the home of the nativity scene since the 1950s. In 2003, the city banned all unattended displays in Palisades Park during the month of December that did not have a permit. The necessary permit could be obtained by community members who applied for a "Winter Display" at the park, and they were allotted on a first-come basis.
In 2011, atheists flooded the city with applications. Those in support of the nativity scene and atheists “both vowed to flood the display-space lottery with even more applications in 2012,” the court that upheld the ban said. During the city’s auction process that year, signs were displayed that depicted Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus, and the devil, Breitbart reports.
Because the process of dealing with so many applications cost Santa Monica much time and money, the city banned all unattended displays in the park. The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee sued, asserting that the ban violated their right to free speech. But the ban was upheld by a district judge, and so the committee appealed to the 9th circuit.
Judge Jay S. Bybee, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that the city’s law applied to all groups and did not seek to silence anybody’s particular viewpoint. Bybee stated that those who crowded the Nativity scenes out of the park were atheists, and it was “surely a bitter pill for the committee."
Bybee was joined in the ruling process by Judge Sandra Ikuta and Judge Michael J. Melloy, both of whom were also appointed by Bush. The court found that the city had secular reasons for the ban, such as aesthetics and the administrative burden on the city.
Bill Becker, a representative of the Nativity Scenes Committee, said that the matter will not be appealed again.
“It is a dead letter,” Becker said. “It was a longshot to begin with. We were hopeful with a conservative panel we would be able to convince them.”
Hunter Jameson, chairman of the committee, blamed the loss of the park’s hosting of the display on “a small group of out-of-town people who caused trouble,” Los Angeles Times reports.
As has been the case during the years of legal dispute, the scene will continue to be displayed on private property.
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