A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a ban on the exhibition of Christmas Nativity scenes in a Santa Monica park.
The religious dioramas were allowed in Palisades Park each December for almost 60 years until the Santa Monica City Council voted three years ago to bar them.
The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee then tried without success to stop the city from adopting its new policy.
In November 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins sided with the city’s argument that additional administrative burdens caused by other groups wishing to produce their own displays justified the ban.
After an appeal, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena ruled that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech was not curtailed by the city’s new policy of banning all unattended displays in the park, regardless of content.
“It’s an unfortunate decision,” William Becker, a lawyer for the group, told City News Service.
“We don’t understand the level of intolerance shown to Christians, especially in the Christmas season,” he said. “This ruling is the result of bigotry and intolerance. Perhaps one day, the group will raise enough money to enable them to display the booths during the day and dismantle them each evening.”
The battle dates back to 2011, when the city implemented a new lottery system to award space in the park. That system led to disputes when lottery- winning atheist groups displayed signs and banners, leaving a large area usually devoted to Nativity scenes empty to illustrate their beliefs.
— City News Service