A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by a group of Christian churches to force Santa Monica to allow Nativity scenes at Palisades Park.
William Becker, lawyer the Nativity Scenes Committee, a nonprofit association of 13 local churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, told City News Service the decision was expected and an appeal is planned.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied the group's request for an injunction that would require the city to allow the dioramas to be displayed in the scenic seaside park over the holiday season while the case proceeded.
The judge agreed with city leaders that the Christian group retains the right to present its Nativity scenes on private property.
See also: Nativity Tradition to Continue In Spite of Ban
For the first time in nearly six decades, the life-sized dioramas depicting Jesus' birth are absent from Palisades Park. They, along with menorahs and posters advocating atheism and all types of winter displays were banned by the Santa Monica City Council in June.
The Nativity Committee's lawsuit claimed the City Council trampled on its remembers' rights to free speech and freedom of religion under the First Amendment.
In the past couple of years, the Christian displays have divided nostalgic residents and church-goers with atheists. Santa Monica's municipal code bars private unattended displays in parks, but formerly made an exception each December in the park that lines Ocean Avenue.
To be more inclusive after receiving an unusually high number of requests to erect all sorts of displays, the city held a lottery for the first time in 2011 to determine assignments. The Nativity Committee, which in the past had been allocated 14 spaces each year, was awarded only three plots. The other winners posted signs such as one that read "Happy Solstice" while most of the other spaces were never decorated.
In adopting the ban, city leaders said they feared allowing all comers, regardless of their messaging, could lead to further conflict and "nastiness" in the community.
— City News Service contributed to this report.