Atheist messages displace park nativity scenes

December 13, 2011 - 12:15 PM

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Atheist messages have displaced most of the Christmastime nativity scenes that for nearly six decades a coalition of local churches had placed in Santa Monica's ocean-view park.

Local churches have traditionally claimed 14 of the 21 Palisades Park display spaces to illustrate the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. But atheists managed to get all but three of the spaces this year because of a new city lottery system.

The Santa Monica Daily Press (http://bit.ly/tr8h1T ) reported that churches had little or no competition for the spaces during the past 57 years. This year, 13 people bid for spaces, prompting City Hall to use a random lottery system to allot the spots.

Two individuals snagged 18 spaces. One person can request a maximum of nine spaces.

"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.

Secularist Damon Vix is behind the anti-Christian crusade.

Last year, he put up a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson: "Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies." There were also selections on U.S. Supreme Court decisions about the importance of separating church and state.

Vix, who doesn't live in Santa Monica, now helps other atheists populate Palisades Park spaces, including American Atheists Inc. and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Secularists feel a need to be more vocal and express their civil rights, he said.

"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," Moutrie wrote.

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Information from: Santa Monica Daily Press , http://www.smdp.com/