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Vote on Nativity Ban Postponed

The city attorney, who is asking for the ban, says the First Amendment would prohibit reserving—in perpetuity—spots for specific groups' 'winter displays.' The vote is now set for April.

The Santa Monica City Council is postponing a vote that could put an end to the placement of life-sized Jesuses and .

It was scheduled to vote on a ban of "winter displays" on the iconic stretch of coastline, but residents asked for more time to come up with alternatives.

The proposal comes at the request of the city attorney, who says it would violate the First Amendment to accept a request from local church leaders to forever reserve 14 spots for life-sized Nativity dioramas. 

Marsha Jones Moutrie contends that the city cannot save spots for any one organization just because some displays have become tradition. She suggests the spots are allocated on a first come first serve basis—or not at all.

The Christian dioramas have been on display during the holidays at the for nearly 60 years.

"The city must make the opportunities to erect displays equally available to all—irrespective of the content," said Moutrie.

The vote is now scheduled for an undetermined date in April.

"Let’s figure out a way to make this work… and not to be in too big of a hurry," Steven Snook, a pastor at Metro Calvary Chapel, told the council.

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Though displays of any kind in public parks are generally outlawed, the city has since 2003 made exceptions for the winter ones. The city held a lottery for the first time in 2011 to determine assignments after it received more applications than there was park space.

"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 in December said of those who have called the Nativity scenes offensive. "This is a historical tradition that people look forward to."

The lottery process is still on the table, but Moutrie said staffers expect to receive more applications than ever this summer, which could make it increasingly difficult to administer.

"The [lottery] process for awarding space ... was a much more lengthy process and complicated project than one would imagine," said Moutrie.

She beseeched the council to make a decision about how to proceed before the end of spring.

Eleven people had requested an opportunity to speak on the proposed ban Tuesday night, though as many as half were actually in attendance.

The City Council will continue hearing residents' opinions at the April meeting.

lahope February 29, 2012 at 03:45 PM
The key to this ridiculous controversy is "on the Iconic stretch of coastline." . Palisades Park is spectacular as it is. I don't understand why Christians or atheists want to superimpose their tacky, annoying displays on the natural beauty of the park.
Shane March 02, 2012 at 08:50 AM
Iahope, it's the same reason why you are allowed to post your tacky comment. It's called FREEDOM. The whole reason why this country has freedom is because of the founding fathers Judao-Christian belief. So actually I have a much better idea... anyone who opposes what this beautiful country is founded on should move to a different place... say Mexico? It's pretty much filled with liberal ideas that are thriving. You know, do what ever you want.

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