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Battle Over Coastal Christmas Display Goes to LA Court

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 http://xfinity.comcast.net/articles/news-national/20121118/US.Nativity.Scene.Atheists/?cid=hero_media

  

LOS ANGELES - Damon Vix didn't have to go to court to push Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica. He just joined the festivities.

The atheist's anti-God message alongside a life-sized nativity display in a park overlooking the beach ignited a debate that burned brighter than any Christmas candle.

Santa Monica officials snuffed the city's holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious rumble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus' birth, while the city aims to eject the case.

"It's a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested," said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Missing from the courtroom drama will be Vix and his fellow atheists, who are not parties to the case. Their role outside court highlights a tactical shift as atheists evolve into a vocal minority eager to get their non-beliefs into the public square as never before.

National atheist groups earlier this year took out full-page newspaper ads and hundreds of TV spots in response to the Catholic bishops' activism around women's health care issues and are gearing up to battle for their own space alongside public Christmas displays in small towns across America this season.

"In recent years, the tactic of many in the atheist community has been, if you can't beat them, join them," said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project in Washington. "If these church groups insist that these public spaces are going to be dominated by a Christian message, we'll just get in the game - and that changes everything."

In the past, atheists primarily fought to uphold the separation of church and state through the courts. The change underscores the conviction held by many nonbelievers that their views are gaining a foothold, especially among young adults.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last month that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Atheists took heart from the report, although Pew researchers stressed that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves "spiritual" but not "religious."

"We're at the bottom of the totem pole socially, but we have muscle and we're flexing it," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. "Ignore our numbers at your peril."

The trouble in Santa Monica began three years ago, when Vix applied for and was granted a booth in Palisades Park alongside the story of Jesus Christ's birth, from Mary's visit from the Angel Gabriel to the traditional crèche.

Vix hung a simple sign that quoted Thomas Jefferson: "Religions are all alike -- founded on fables and mythologies." The other side read "Happy Solstice." He repeated the display the following year but then upped the stakes significantly.

In 2011, Vix recruited 10 others to inundate the city with applications for tongue-in-cheek displays such as a homage to the "Pastafarian religion," which would include an artistic representation of the great Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The secular coalition won 18 of 21 spaces. The two others went to the traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display.

The atheists used half their spaces, displaying signs such as one that showed pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus and the devil and said: "37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?"

Most of the signs were vandalized and in the ensuing uproar, the city effectively ended a tradition that began in 1953 and earned Santa Monica one of its nicknames, the City of the Christmas Story.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn't trump the Christians' right to free speech.

"If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they're free to do that - but they can't interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum," said William Becker, attorney for the committee. "Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive."

The city doesn't prohibit churches from caroling in the park, handing out literature or even staging a play about the birth of Jesus and churches can always set up a nativity on private land, Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner said in an email.

The decision to ban the displays also saves the city, which had administered the cumbersome lottery process used to award booths, both time and money while preserving the park's aesthetics, she said.

For his part, Vix is surprised - and slightly amused - at the legal battle spawned by his solitary act but doesn't plan anything further.

"That was such a unique and blatant example of the violation of the First Amendment that I felt I had to act," said the 44-year-old set builder. "If I had another goal, it would be to remove the `under God' phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance - but that's a little too big for me to take on for right now."

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but also states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." That has been interpreted by courts as providing for separation of church and state, barring government bodies from promoting, endorsing or funding religion or religious institutions.

by on Nov. 19, 2012 at 7:29 AM
Replies (21-30):
romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:33 AM
1 mom liked this

 

Quoting Bookwormy:

I believe that the Supreme Court made a mistake in allowing public & goverment property to display religious materials as long as they are willing to display a diversity. I believe that to display none is to not establish any religion but to display many is to establish many religions.

It is usually the Christians I find aruging for the displays & saying that nobody should be offended. I'm not Christian & I'm not offended by them, but I think that they do show that we live in a Christocentric, Christianist country. It makes it hard to raise children non-Christian or enjoy this time of year. I wish there were a stricter interpretation of the 1st Amendment, & then the athiests wouldn't be offending everyone either.


Quoting romalove:

 


Quoting candlegal:


Oh darn, is it that time of year again already.    Here we go again




 I agree with that sentiment lol.


But I really am sort of bothered by the idea that the atheist group wants to push these negative messages to "join 'em".  I really think they are doing it to try and get all messages removed from governmental public places, and that, I think, is right.


 I agree with you that they made an error, but not because of establishment of religion, but because of endorsement.

Having any or all (which would be silly, lol) still indicates endorsement of religion, of ANY religion, and I think the governmental sphere should be free from religion.

I also think that what bothers me on this issue is that so much of our world is not governmental public, but private public.  So many places to have religious displays and iconography!  It isn't like Christmas is this silent, hidden, unobtrusive part of American life.  It is everywhere!  I love Christmas, I decorate and celebrate, I enjoy the displays at malls and other private public places, but I can't for the life of me understand why it also must be on a courthouse lawn or municipal center.

LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:34 AM
From what I saw, his banners talked about religion being based on fables and myth (a Jefferson quote) and said Happy Solstice. The other one had pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Satan and Santa and said something about mythology. Nothing vulgar at all...

Quoting frogbender:

Look, no matter how tacky or tasteless, as long as neither display is lewd or vulgar (we're talking nudity and inappropriate language here), both should have the same rights to be displayed if one of them is allowable. 

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romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:34 AM
1 mom liked this

 

Quoting GoodPenny:

The ethical issue here is that the atheist's display are purposely rude, and insulting. Whereas the 60 year old tradition that the city of Santa Monica displays is not. They are not specifically intending to cause strife by their display, the atheist group is. Intent is the difference between getting probation and 25 years in a court of law, so what does that tell you?

 The tradition is to have religious display on public governmental land.  That's what is wrong. 

This tells me that you like having religious displays on governmental public land.

I do not.

romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:36 AM

 

Quoting LucyMom08:

So all he did was put up his own banner and the city took everything down? Why not include both? What gives the church the right to have theirs, but not the atheist?

 They didn't like the atheist's message that the religious displays are just of mythology.  They find that offensive.

I honestly believe the atheist groups are taking the tactic of being purposefully offensive to the religious in order to do just that, make them take it all away.

LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:36 AM
1 mom liked this
So a Thomas Jefferson quote and the words 'Happy Solstice' are purposefully rude and insulting?

Quoting GoodPenny:

The ethical issue here is that the atheist's display are purposely rude, and insulting. Whereas the 60 year old tradition that the city of Santa Monica displays is not. They are not specifically intending to cause strife by their display, the atheist group is. Intent is the difference between getting probation and 25 years in a court of law, so what does that tell you?
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LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:39 AM
1 mom liked this
I guess I just don't get why it's such a big deal...people vandalized his signs and all...some freedom of speech, right? I would think if one is secure in their faith, they'd simply skip over a non-vulgar banner and enjoy the (apparently) many religious displays...

Quoting romalove:

 


Quoting LucyMom08:

So all he did was put up his own banner and the city took everything down? Why not include both? What gives the church the right to have theirs, but not the atheist?

 They didn't like the atheist's message that the religious displays are just of mythology.  They find that offensive.


I honestly believe the atheist groups are taking the tactic of being purposefully offensive to the religious in order to do just that, make them take it all away.

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:40 AM

 

Quoting LucyMom08:

So a Thomas Jefferson quote and the words 'Happy Solstice' are purposefully rude and insulting?

Quoting GoodPenny:

The ethical issue here is that the atheist's display are purposely rude, and insulting. Whereas the 60 year old tradition that the city of Santa Monica displays is not. They are not specifically intending to cause strife by their display, the atheist group is. Intent is the difference between getting probation and 25 years in a court of law, so what does that tell you?

 I don't find the quote to be rude and insulting, but I don't believe in God or religion.

A religious person seeing a banner proclaiming their religion is based on mythology takes offense.

I think it's harmless but they would rather pull the religious display in order not to have to endure the offensive one, in their opinion.

I think that's the goal of the atheist group.  I think they gave up on trying to force through court rulings the First Amendment as they see it.

 

romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:42 AM
2 moms liked this

 

Quoting LucyMom08:

I guess I just don't get why it's such a big deal...people vandalized his signs and all...some freedom of speech, right? I would think if one is secure in their faith, they'd simply skip over a non-vulgar banner and enjoy the (apparently) many religious displays...

Quoting romalove:

 


Quoting LucyMom08:

So all he did was put up his own banner and the city took everything down? Why not include both? What gives the church the right to have theirs, but not the atheist?

 They didn't like the atheist's message that the religious displays are just of mythology.  They find that offensive.


I honestly believe the atheist groups are taking the tactic of being purposefully offensive to the religious in order to do just that, make them take it all away.

 I think I see what the atheist group sees, and that is that for religious people, a creche on the courthouse lawn is far more important than one on their own lawn at home.

I say this because despite the fact that there are displays and iconography EVERYWHERE in America (and I live in very diverse and multi-cultural NJ, I can just imagine what it's like in Georgia or Texas lol), they keep insisting on having them on governmental public property.  So I think....why is that?  Why so important?

And the answer I get is that they like the appearance of their government endorsing their religion.

LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:44 AM
1 mom liked this
As a woman in Georgia, I agree with that...haha...
Quoting romalove:

 


Quoting LucyMom08:

I guess I just don't get why it's such a big deal...people vandalized his signs and all...some freedom of speech, right? I would think if one is secure in their faith, they'd simply skip over a non-vulgar banner and enjoy the (apparently) many religious displays...


Quoting romalove:


 



Quoting LucyMom08:

So all he did was put up his own banner and the city took everything down? Why not include both? What gives the church the right to have theirs, but not the atheist?


 They didn't like the atheist's message that the religious displays are just of mythology.  They find that offensive.



I honestly believe the atheist groups are taking the tactic of being purposefully offensive to the religious in order to do just that, make them take it all away.


 I think I see what the atheist group sees, and that is that for religious people, a creche on the courthouse lawn is far more important than one on their own lawn at home.


I say this because despite the fact that there are displays and iconography EVERYWHERE in America (and I live in very diverse and multi-cultural NJ, I can just imagine what it's like in Georgia or Texas lol), they keep insisting on having them on governmental public property.  So I think....why is that?  Why so important?


And the answer I get is that they like the appearance of their government endorsing their religion.

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frogbender
by Captain Underpants on Nov. 19, 2012 at 10:49 AM

I know. And there really is nothing tacky or tasteless about the display Damon Vix put up. I guess some folks just hate that others aren't as enamored as they of their chosen religion.

Quoting LucyMom08:

From what I saw, his banners talked about religion being based on fables and myth (a Jefferson quote) and said Happy Solstice. The other one had pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Satan and Santa and said something about mythology. Nothing vulgar at all...

Quoting frogbender:

Look, no matter how tacky or tasteless, as long as neither display is lewd or vulgar (we're talking nudity and inappropriate language here), both should have the same rights to be displayed if one of them is allowable. 


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