Have atheist groups won their battle to oust religious displays fromPalisades Park in Santa Monica? It looks that way. Last night the SantaMonica City Council voted to disallow any “unattended religious display” along Ocean Avenue. This effectively puts an end to six decades of tradition in the Park.
Santa Monica has hosted nativity scenes in Palisades Park for 60years. Beginning in 1953, a coalition of 13 churches joined a localpolice organization to put up nativity displays. The displays consistedof more than a dozen scenes from the birth of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels created out of sets and using mannequins dressed in period costumes.
But in the last few years atheist groups have challenged the practiceand demanded space for their own displays. Last year, the display areawas divided up into small display spaces and split up among dozens of applicants. The coalition of churches which had been using the park got just three of the spaces, meaning the majority of their display remainedin storage. One space went to a Jewish group and two to other churches.Eighteen of the spaces went to atheists groups.
A few of the atheist groups did put up displays in their allotted areas last year, such as asign quoting Thomas Jefferson on religion.However, having successfully taken the space away from the church coalition, mostof the atheist groups left the space they’d beenawarded by the city vacant.
Now Santa Monica has simply put an end to the displays altogether.However, the wording of the decision does leave open the possibility that a display usingpeople rather than mannequins might pass muster. But for the moment, the attempt by atheist groups to end the displays of Nativity scenes at Christmas has succeeded.