A six-decade tradition of Christmas displays was banned in Santa Monica after an atheist group complained.
A federal judge on Monday (Nov. 19) denied a bid by churches to force city officials in Santa Monica, Calif., to reopen spaces in a city park to private displays, including life-sized Christmas Nativity scenes.
The city shut down the six-decade tradition last year after a bitter dispute between religious groups and atheists, who overwhelmed the city’s auction process for display sites, winning most of the 21 slots.
William Becker, an attorney representing a group of Christian churches, said he would appeal. Another hearing on additional arguments is scheduled for Dec. 3.
“The atheists won,” Becker told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a shame about Christmas. Pontius Pilate was exactly the same kind of administrator.”
In last year’s struggle, the secular groups got the right to use 18 stalls at Palisades Park, while two stalls went to traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display, the Santa Monica Daily Press reported.
The atheist groups used their stalls to put up signs referring to religion as a myth or comparing Santa Claus to the devil. Most of the signs were vandalized in the ensuing uproar.