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Fewer Nativities, Religious Leaders Protest

Multiple space requests for winter displays at Palisades Park in Santa Monica have reduced the traditional nativity story displays to just three booths.

Religious leaders are calling for church bells across Santa Monica to be rung at 3 p.m. Sunday to protest their lack of access to the scenic real estate where Christmas dioramas have been displayed for 57 years, City News Service reported.

Members of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee told Patch this week that they were upset their beloved display of scenes telling the birth of Jesus were reduced to just three booths this year. In the past, the committee has erected as many as 14 life-size nativities in Palisades Park.

But this year, the city received and approved requests from people outside the committee for holiday displays to be set-up the same time in roughly the same place in the park.

According to local media, in more recent years, the city has seen requests from Chabad of Santa Monica to display a menorah and from a secular group who displayed a Thomas Jefferson quote. Then, record number of requests flowed into City Hall this year, so the city held a lottery to determine assignments.

The drawing resulted in Joe Naranja, of Christmas Spirit, and Raymond McNeely, unaffiliated, getting up to 18 parcels of Palisades Park, with the Nativity Scenes Committee left with two spaces and one for the display of a menorrah, applied for by Isaac Levitansky, of Chabad Channukah Menorah.

Now there's a sign saying "Happy Solstice" on a protective cage at one spot, and most of the other spaces are just vacant grass, City News Service reported.

"We protested to the city council about the lottery arrangement and the people who were trying to block us," Nativity Scenes Committee member Pat Peterson said of those who have called the nativity scenes offensive. "This is a historical tradition that people look forward to."

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie wrote in an email that the issue is one of First Amendment rights.

"The Supreme Court and federal appellate courts have designated public parks and public streets as the classic public forums in which individuals have maximum First Amendment protection," Moutrie wrote, explaining that the city cannot choose which displays go up based on content.

Copies of the applications obtained by Patch show that all of this year's display organizers' were received in early February of this year. However, only the applications by Levitansky and the one made by Hunter Jameson on behalf of the Nativity Scenes Committee, are marked as having provided site map plans and other legal agreements, as required in the city application process.

The Nativity Scenes Committee is a coalition of 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association. The nativity displays have been erected for more than 50 years, originally by the Chamber of Commerce.

Moutrie, in her email, wrote that city staffers understand that members of the community may not be entirely happy with this year's situation.

"Personally, it saddens me to think of any community members being disappointed by actions of the City," Moutrie wrote. "But, as you know, the City is deeply committed to respecting constitutional rights."

Attempts to reach McNeely and Naranja were unsuccessful.

The committee will open its annual display of its life-size figures with songs and a recital of the Christmas story 3 p.m. Sunday. The lighted scenes will remain on display through Dec. 31.

Regina Bailey December 12, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Personally, I am an atheist and I am not offended by a nativity scene when it is on personal property or city hall. Why ? Because I don't take things personal that aren't. The fact of the matter is the nativity scene represents a culture of Christianity that is a strong percentage of Americans. That said there should be equal representation permissible should atheist, muslim, pagan, etc wish to be represented. No matter how we try to abolish Christianity, that's not going to happen for many many more years if at all, and it certainly will not happen by attacking other's beliefs. Whenever you demonize someone's beliefs it is psychologically damaging and forces your reality onto someone who may not be ready for that reality. You also take a chance that by demonizing someone else you actually push them more towards religion. The BEST way, in my opinion, to be an atheist is to show love and compassion and live a good example. When people of "religious values" see atheists acting better than their own people do, what does that say about the power of humanity to live without religion? It shows that humans do not need religion to be good and moral beings. My personal belief system is Humanism and I love showing Christians how good of a person I can be without God.
Scott Olson December 12, 2011 at 10:07 PM
@Greg Fry, You've forgotten Matthew Chapter 6, 5-6 "And when you pray, be not like the pretenders who like to stand in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets to pray, that they may be seen by the children of men, and truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet and lock your door, and pray to your father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you in public."
Greg Fry December 13, 2011 at 01:18 AM
@ Scott Olson You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Carl Hamilton December 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Good Regina, your method of showing us Christians that you can be good without God is fantastic as there are a million of historical instances of both Good and Bad people who were with and without religion. Being religious doesn't make you good, or bad...the same way living without God doesn't make you a good or bad person. It is all about one's actions, regardless of what is guiding them.
Teni December 20, 2011 at 01:53 AM
May God enlighten you o the believers of the non-existent God.

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