LIFE SIZE DISPLAYS depicting the birth of Jesus Christ, as well as other winter exhibits can legally be prohibited from Palisades Park in Santa Monica, a federal judge has ruled.

A federal judge has sided with the city of Santa Monica in its ban on free-standing winter displays in Palisades Park, including one that has traditionally depicted the birth of Jesus Christ.
U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins has denied a request by a committee of church groups to erect their 14 Nativity scene displays this holiday season as has been done at the seaside park since 1953.
After the City Council voted in June to no longer allow for such private, unattended winter displays, the committee filed a lawsuit charging that the city infringed their rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the First Amendment. Other winter displays that have gone up over the years, including a Hanukkah exhibit with a menorah and banners with atheist messages, will also no longer be allowed.
The city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit will be heard by the court Monday, Dec. 3. Based on the court’s prior ruling, William Becker, the Nativity committee’s attorney, said they are not optimistic that a decision will be made in their favor.
The attorney has expressed his rejection of the city’s handling of the case, which has drawn national attention, on his website, saying that the city has opposed free speech and religious liberty.
City officials have stressed that expressions of religion and speech will not be removed from the city, as groups can still erect booths on private property, as part of a community event or with an attendant during the day.
The ban on seasonal displays came after an unprecedented number of applicants for park space last holiday season led to the need for a lottery for the first time. Following the drawing, the Christmas display applicant received only enough spots for a much shortened version of its exhibit, while applicants representing secular groups were selected to take most of the available spaces.
The situation became heated as groups supporting the traditional Christmas scenes argued they should be preserved as a whole, atheist groups said other points of view should be represented, and others felt no displays should be on public space.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation praised the judge’s ruling to uphold the city’s ban on winter displays.
“A city has no obligation to create a public forum, especially when it creates divisiveness and acrimony, turning beautiful and serene park land into virtual Christian advertisements each December, and turning non-Christians into outsiders,” says a statement on the foundation website.
Nativity scenes committee members say they have found alternate locations for this year’s display and are continuing to seek the best possible solution if Palisades Park is no longer an option after nearly six decades.