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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 (41-50):
romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:24 AM
1 mom liked this

 

Quoting Bookwormy:

If its effective, was it good or bad in your opinion? I'd rather it was done via the courts, but the Supreme Court has already ruled that its OK as long as they display a diversity of stuff, right? So the athiests take advantage of the court ruling to get rid of all of it. Good or bad in your opinion?


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 wish and hope that at some point in the future there will be another chance for them to make a different ruling.  I think they missed the mark on this one.

I understand the frustration of this group.  I think, though, if they want to put up something that someone else considers offensive, since they are feeling offended by the nativities that are there, all's fair in love and war, what's good for one is good for another.

What I really feel is that the most religious should be standing with me in trying to keep government and religion as separate as possible, because while today your religion may be the majority and things are comfortable for you, another day it may be another religion, and you will be mighty upset.

candlegal
by Judy on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:32 AM
2 moms liked this

Does anyone remember that Christmas is a federal holiday?    Don't like it, go to work that day and leave the rest of us alone.   It is sanctioned by the federal government so put up the Christmas decorations on any federal lands they want to.

If it wasn't for Christ, there wouldn't be a Christmas.   As long as it is a federal holiday, the rest of you can suck it up and deal with it.

romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:33 AM

 

Quoting GoodPenny:

Incorrect. It's not that I like it, but more that I don't mind it. I'm not a petty person in that I'm going to let this bother me. Now children dying in the Middle East, that bothers me.
Quoting romalove:

 

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.


 I am not a petty person either.

Children in the middle east (actually, children anywhere) dying bothers me.

That has no bearing on how I feel on this issue.

AMBG825
by on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:33 AM
It also said those displays were vandalized and THAT prompted the ban.

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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romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:34 AM
2 moms liked this

 

Quoting candlegal:

Does anyone remember that Christmas is a federal holiday?    Don't like it, go to work that day and leave the rest of us alone.   It is sanctioned by the federal government so put up the Christmas decorations on any federal lands they want to.

If it wasn't for Christ, there wouldn't be a Christmas.   As long as it is a federal holiday, the rest of you can suck it up and deal with it.

 As charming as this statement is, I'll address your points anyway.

Christmas is a federal holiday for financial reasons, not religious. 

I don't have to suck anything up and deal with it.  You are incredibly rude and so un-Christlike in your answers here.

LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:35 AM

 Seriously?

Quoting candlegal:

Does anyone remember that Christmas is a federal holiday?    Don't like it, go to work that day and leave the rest of us alone.   It is sanctioned by the federal government so put up the Christmas decorations on any federal lands they want to.

If it wasn't for Christ, there wouldn't be a Christmas.   As long as it is a federal holiday, the rest of you can suck it up and deal with it.

 

LucyMom08
by Gold Member on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:37 AM
1 mom liked this

 The same could be said for the atheist banners...why is it ok for the church, but not ok for others? That's the issue here...

Quoting D.O.E.:

no offense intended, but what is with all these protests about issues which really, are not important? so there's a nativity scene. big whoop. who the hell cares? don't like it? look away!

why not focus on more important issues if panties need to be in a twist?

 

D.O.E.
by on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:38 AM

there is no reason for anyone to be argueing about anything! religion is simply not that important!!! don't like it, dont look at it!

Quoting LucyMom08:

 The same could be said for the atheist banners...why is it ok for the church, but not ok for others? That's the issue here...

Quoting D.O.E.:

no offense intended, but what is with all these protests about issues which really, are not important? so there's a nativity scene. big whoop. who the hell cares? don't like it? look away!

why not focus on more important issues if panties need to be in a twist?

 


romalove
by Roma on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:40 AM

 

Quoting D.O.E.:

there is no reason for anyone to be argueing about anything! religion is simply not that important!!! don't like it, dont look at it!

Quoting LucyMom08:

 The same could be said for the atheist banners...why is it ok for the church, but not ok for others? That's the issue here...

Quoting D.O.E.:

no offense intended, but what is with all these protests about issues which really, are not important? so there's a nativity scene. big whoop. who the hell cares? don't like it? look away!

why not focus on more important issues if panties need to be in a twist?

 


 Oh dear, lol. 

This is actually significant and important.

I am sorry you don't see it.

Telling people "don't like it, don't look" does not negate what is going on.

AMBG825
by on Nov. 19, 2012 at 11:42 AM
2 moms liked this
I see someone hasn't read their bible.

Quoting candlegal:

Does anyone remember that Christmas is a federal holiday?    Don't like it, go to work that day and leave the rest of us alone.   It is sanctioned by the federal government so put up the Christmas decorations on any federal lands they want to.

If it wasn't for Christ, there wouldn't be a Christmas.   As long as it is a federal holiday, the rest of you can suck it up and deal with it.

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