Christmas may still be six months away, but that hasn't stopped atheists from successfully pursuing a ban on nativity and religious scenes at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California. Back in December, The Blaze first told you about the war that secularists have been waging against a "Christmas Story" scene that has been present in the park for nearly six decades.
As we previously reported, each year, a giant two-block long depiction offers visitors 14 nativity scenes that are presented in life-size form. But this week, atheists, who have been on the offensive for quite some time, have finally succeeded in having the traditional display banned.
Last December, recognizing an opportunity to create some angst, non-believers began getting boisterous about the Christian display. The Los Angeles Times has more about the lottery drama that unfolded:
Last year, after requests for display space exceeded the space allotted, the city held a lottery to allocate slots fairly and legally. Atheists won 18 of the 21 plots. A Jewish group that sets up a menorah won another. The Nativity story that once took 14 displays to tell had to be crammed into two plots.
Controversy raged, with many residents arguing that the traditional Nativity scenes should be preserved and others saying that the lottery was important to ensure neutrality. Some residents said they would prefer ocean views to any displays at all.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to ban the traditional, display (the vote was 5-0, with two members of the council absent and, thus, not casting their votes). At the meeting, 30 atheists and Christians testified, representing their views on the matter, but in the end, all faith symbols have been nixed from the park during future holiday seasons.
City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie told the council that the drama has created some major First Amendment issues. Considering the overwhelming debate and free-speech angst, Moutrie said that banning religious displays is the best foot forward. In addition to the First Amendment issues, the attorney cited the likely escalation in cost for the city if, indeed, the lottery continues.
"Our research shows we can legally ban all unattended displays in parks," Moutrie proclaimed.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's (FFRF) Annie Laurie Gaylor spoke out in support of the ban, admitting that atheists exploited the system and intentionally sought to have the display removed.
"The freethinkers...played the game of the religionists and they outsmarted them. They showed the Christian people of the city what it feels like to have a public park promoting views that offend your personal conscience," she proclaimed. "These views were on public property that were supposed to be owned equally by everyone."
The faith community, speaking through the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Commission, already submitted a petition to have the ban rescinded. The group, which represents 13 churches, presented 1,721 signatures against the act. However, the City Council was unswayed and the regulation is slated to take effect for all Santa Monica parks.
Rabbi Isaac Levitansky of the area's Chabad, who organized the only Jewish display in the park, voiced his disappointment with the decision, while reiterating a pledge to continue promoting his faith.
"I feel bad that the city council and the city attorney could not find a medium to have the displays in public," he proclaimed. "We will be putting around 60 public menorahs around Simcha Monica and if one goes down, two will go up.”