A correct legal decision for the wrong reasons! Still, here’s an early holiday present: according to The Los Angeles Times, nativity scenes will not be allowed in a public park in Santa Monica, California:
In a closely watched case that has attracted national attention, Judge Audrey B. Collins denied a request from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to erect multiple large displays depicting the story of the birth of Jesus in the park overlooking the ocean. The coalition of churches has erected the displays every December since the 1950s.
But last year, after requests for display spots exceeded the space allotted, the city held a lottery to allocate spaces. Atheists won 18 of 21 spots. A Jewish group won another. The traditional Nativity story that used to take up 14 displays was crammed into two.
I’m not sure whether the solution to having one religion’s displays on public land is to allow everyone’s religious displays (ego the lottery). That still leaves some people out, and, even if such “let everyone’s faith be on tap” displays are legal, it would seem better to prohibit all such displays on public land. In the end, the judge decided that the banning involved not religious freedom, but logistical and financial difficulties for Santa Monica:
Controversy erupted, and as a result, the city decided the lottery would become increasingly costly. Last June, the City Council voted to ban all private unattended displays.
In October, Nativity scene proponents filed suit in federal court to allow the traditional Christian displays to continue. In a 27-page tentative ruling, Collins denied the group permission to erect their displays this year while the case is pending.
The coalition of churches that had put on the life-sized, 14-booth Nativity display for decades argued the city banned it rather than referee a religious dispute that began three years ago when atheists first set up their anti-God message alongside the Christmas diorama.
This is exactly why all such displays should be banned: so that judges don’t have to referee such disputes. In that sense the coalition of churches is correct.
The judge, however, said Santa Monica proved that it banned the displays not to squash religious speech but because they were becoming a drain on city resources, destroying the turf and obstructing ocean views. Churches can set up unattended displays at 12 other parks in the city with a permit and can leaflet, carol and otherwise present the Christmas story in Palisades Park when it is open, she said.
But that would seem to violate the First Amendment.
“I think all of the evidence that is admissible about the aesthetic impacts and administrative burden shows that this was a very reasonable alternative for the city to go this way — and it had nothing to do with content,” she said during a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles.
Yeah, right. As is often the case, the religious coalition makes a ridiculous comparison:
“The atheists won,” said William Becker, attorney for the Nativity group. He then went on to compare the city to Pontius Pilate, the judge at Jesus’ trial, saying: “It’s a shame about Christmas. Pontius Pilate was exactly the same kind of administrator.”
Well, the atheists did the right thing by entering the lottery, but there shouldn’t have been any lottery. If people want to put up scenes of baby Jesus at Christmas, let them do it on private land. What’s the insistence on using public parks for such displays, if not to deliberately breach the U.S.’s wall between church and state?
h/t: Linda Grilli