Santa Monica Can Ban Holiday Displays at City Park, Judge Says

Federal judge denies request from local Christian group to allow the life-size dioramas at Palisades Park this Christmas. "There are multiple opportunities" for individuals or groups to put up displays on private property, city attorney says.

Santa Monica will not be forced to reopen spaces at Palisades Park to private holiday displays—including Christmas Nativity scenes—a federal judge said Tuesday, according to City News Service.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied a request for an injunction that would require the city to allow the dioramas to be displayed at the scenic seaside park over the holiday season while the case proceeds. She set a Dec. 3 hearing on a dismissal motion brought by the city.

The judge said the Christian group retains the right to present its Nativity scene on private property and other locations throughout Santa Monica.

In its lawsuit against the city, the Santa Monica's Nativity Committee, a nonprofit association of 13 local churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, said the City Council's June decision to outlaw displays infringed on its members First Amendment rights and is "hostile to the Christian religion and our nation's religious heritage."

William Becker, the attorney for the group, told the Associated Press he will appeal.
"The atheists won and they will always win unless we get courts to understand how the game is played and this is a game that was played very successfully and they knew it," Becker told the AP after the hearing.

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The Nativity display was first placed at the park in 1953.

In the past couple of years, the city began receiving an unusually high number of requests to erect all sorts of displays. To accommodate all of the requests and to be more inclusive, it held a lottery in 2011.

But 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 Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie has argued the First Amendment prohibits the city from picking and choosing which displays to allow. 

While "the law doesn’t require us to take the step that the staff has proposed here, and we are within our legal right to continue the program as we have done it... I feel like we’re setting up a ring for a competition in Palisades Park," City Councilman Terry O'Day said at the time. "And it’s one that’s getting nasty."

Barry Rosenbaum of the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office said outside court that judge Collins had correctly recognized that "there are multiple opportunities" for individuals or groups to engage in free speech at various other points throughout the city.

He added that the Palisades Park case was "content neutral" and had nothing to do with the religious content of the display.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Elizabeth Condelli November 26, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Christmas is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. You don't have to be a believer to enjoy the nativity scenes put up by Christian Churches. But there are some very angry people who will do everything they can to make sure others aren't offended by Baby Jesus. Those same people (10 or 15 maybe) need to be heard, so let us all celebrate the birth of our Lord in our homes and churches and let the 10 or 15 fight for something. I'm not sure what though.
Brenda Barnes November 26, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Those stuctures were not permanent, unless I missed something. I thought they went up every December. If they did, they are no more permanent than banners and signs used to convey speech. This freedom of speech issue should not have anything to do with where, as in in a park or a plaza, or a street, the speech takes place. There need to be places for speech to occur. More and more there are not.
Elizabeth Condelli November 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Do you really think this is a freedom of speech issue or just plain hate?
GSGETSIT November 26, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Of course they were premanent. They were up permanently for several days and nights blocking the view of the park. Had they been banners up for the day then no problem.
GSGETSIT November 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Elizabeth ... please clarify your hate statement. Who hates who???
Brenda Barnes November 26, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Who would be the hater here? The Christians, or the atheists, or the City, which did not have to outlaw all displays in the Park but did? I am not on anyone of those parties' side, so I'm sure not a hater. Yes, I do think people need to realize the more space that is lost to free speech, the sooner we will have no space left for it. That time is very close, given all the privatizing of public spaces, and then the private property owners' winning in courts that do not protect the public from this loss. When what little appropriate public space left to be free on is voluntarily closed by a City to everyone's speech, that is a loss to everyone, equally.
GSGETSIT November 27, 2012 at 07:25 AM
Brenda ... you can set up a podium in any public park you want and talk as long as you want. The only one stopping you from speaking is YOU!!! Also, I have seen numerous individuals speaking along the Third Street Promenade. Where else would you like to go and speak in public. Maybe you should go to the City Council qnd estalishes several locations in the city where people can stand and speak freely about any subject!!! Sometimes you have to be creative and stop the complaining and fear mongering about future loses!!!!
Elizabeth Condelli November 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I fear you are right and the statue of St. Monica will be the next icon under attack!
Elizabeth Condelli November 27, 2012 at 06:14 PM
The only reason I can see for this decision is that a few people hate Christmas and everything it stands for. Sure they put a name on it like "freedom of speech", "city property", 'fair and balanced", "conflicts with atheists", For the past 60 years (let's exclude that display last year), the Christmas nativity scene was to remind each and everyone that this is the season that is suppose to spread love and joy. A child was born, whether you believe he was the son of God or not, he is the symbol of peace in the world. We need lots of that now. As we know, there are some who "hate" peace, joy, and love, and don't want anyone else to have it either. Christmas will come this year and every year in the hearts of loving people.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:09 PM
I don't think Barness gets out much.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Condelli seems pretty capable of spreading fear, suspicion and hatred all by herself. The "Prince of Peace" would likely regard those horrible nativity scenes as the height of self indulgence. Keep it at home, in the churches, on your bumper stickers, on your T-shirts, on the internet, radio, TV, Twitter, billboards and in your heart - if you feel it at all.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Condelli is on the right track when she advises that Christians celebrate in their homes and churches. However, she is quite dishonest in stating that she does not know what the issue is or says in other posts that it is about hate.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I have been watching with some delight Barnes's fulminations - entertaining is too small a word for it.
Brenda Barnes November 27, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Thanks, Gordon. I am not focusing here on speaking ineffectively. I was speaking about loss of places where 5,000 can assemble, speak,and make a change in the government or in the thinking of thousands. Even the corner of Ocean and Arizona is such a place. That kind of space is carefully being taken away and regulated more and more. I am helping a man who--all by himself mostly--has been picketing 18 months next to a Costco gas station where a sign (since taken down due to his picketing and so many asking about it) said they had the "lowest gas prices in town." Actually they only match the lowest, but allow only members to buy gas, so membership cost adds to effective price, and allow using only American Express credit cards, so that adds charges too. Costco sued him claiming he trespassed, when in fact he was always on the median next to their land. They have Morrison and Foerster as their law firm, about 1,000 attorneys. That's why I know there are very few public places you can freely protest now, and those where you supposedly can, if you offend big money, you'll find yourself defending a big lawsuit. Experiences like these make one if she is thoughtful analyze where we are and where we are going. It will not do to call a person like me names. First, I don't care: I don't know you, and I don't want to know anyone who interjects name-calling into serious discussion. For another, resorting to ad hominem attacks makes shallow analysis obvious.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:33 PM
If all SM Native is hanging onto is a cement statue, one wonders how well she understands her faith.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Very, very well said Tom. While I love Christmas and the values it represents, I have always disliked the favored status Christians assume to themselves - Jesus would have condemed that as contrary to what he represented. As for RJ's comment, conflation of multiple issues asside; tax money is pooled. All public espenses are paid from the common pool - the funds are fungible. Every public expenditure is paid for by everyone who has paid any tax that end up in the public pool.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Frederick is "confused" about the issue. One may believe or not believe in what religion one wishes. One may not use public space to promote that belief. Imagine his reaction if the Wiccans or any one of a hundred other non-mainstream beliefs were to have sequential annual displays - although the idea does have some humorous appeal!
PHIL HENDRICKS November 27, 2012 at 11:54 PM
The entertainment just keeps coming!! Regarding Barnes's claim that Costco only accepts American Express cards, which she claims adds to the cost of the gasoline: From Costco's web site: "Costco accepts cash, checks, debit/ATM cards, Costco credit card, American Express and Costco cash card as forms of payment." Far from adding to the cost of the gas if one uses an American Express card, a cash back provision of up to 3% occurs. If a Costco AMEX card is used there is no annual fee - there are also several other AMEX cards available with no annual fees. More to the point; in no case does any form of payment accepted by Costco raise the cost of the gasoline. Judging by the accuracy and lucidity of her post here as well as others, one can only regard her posts as an inexpensive form of entertainment.
GSGETSIT November 28, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Good Job Phil.... Private property is the only correct space for any religious displays of any denomination ... subsidies with respect to the land upon which the display is constructed is very precious to the public.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 02:41 AM
In San Luis Obispo, where this is happening, people can pay FOR GAS at Costco only with American Express cards. I guess because I don't get out much (and am not rich enough to qualify for an Amex card at all), so I don't get the 3% back or qualify to not pay the annual fee, that means what I said was wrong? No, it means for some people it does not cost to use an American Express card, but for the people I care about, it does. People who qualify for no-fee and 3% back Amex cards do not care about the cost of gas anyway, my friend the picketer tells me. By the way, if what I said earlier is true, and I believe it is, that resort to ad hominem attacks show shallowness of analysis, do we have some of that here, or what? As another by the way, I am absolutely opposed to the nativity displays at Palisades Park. They were Christian and a violation of separation of church and state. The ONLY question here was whether SM should have done what it did not need to do, and stop all Christmas or any other seasonal displays ANYONE wanted to put in the Park. This is not a separation of church and state issue. That is why I am speaking about free speech, since by the time SM CHOSE to stop all seasonal displays, the separation of church and state issue had already been settled by having a lottery.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 28, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Barnes's not quite coherent confusion about the distinctions between religious freedom and freedom of expression aside, and my knowing that I must have way too much time on my hands, and that I should probably look for another hobby, I just can't resist - Barnes is just way too much fun. I just spoke personally with the management of the SLO Costco. They stated explicitly and firmly that the "The Costco gasoline store accepts cash, checks, debit/ATM cards, Costco credit card, American Express and Costco cash card as forms of payment." just as I stated in the earlier post and completely contrary to Barnes's empty claim. Further; most people, like me, who shop at Costco would hardly call themselves rich by any standard, yet they still have no problem qualifying for an AMEX card - in fact Costco has their own Costco/AMEX card that is available to anyone who can qualify for any other credit card. The cost of the gasoline is unaffected by the use or non-use of the AMEX card, debit card, cash, check or barter. I know, I know; I should be ashamed of myself! Oh, wretched me.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 28, 2012 at 06:10 AM
I don't think it has been suggested here, but one thing the churches could do - at least the ones who speak to each other - is to ramp up the whole nativity display idea and make it a Major seasonal event. Churches could each present segments of a very much expanded nativity story. Maps of the sites could be produced, both on-line and hard copy. Local and international tour companies could offer it as one of their premier destinations. Refreshments, remembrances and gifts could be offered at select churches. Net proceeds could be given to organizations dedicated to helping those in need during the Holidays. What could be more Christian?
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 09:28 PM
I looked up Costco cards, and they are Amex cards too. So that was the point--if you want to use a credit card to buy gas at Costco, you have to use an Amex card. That's probably an illegal tie-in under the antitrust laws, but I care about it only because no low-income people can qualify for an Amex card, whether you care about that or not. It's important to me because Costco is the second largest retailer in the US and is systematically excluding low-income people from being its customers. It's important to my friend because middle-income people--who can qualify for an Amex card but only one with fees--are paying higher prices for gas at Costco because they have to use an Amex card instead of their Visa or Master Card. When someone pickets virtually every day for 18 months and the point was Costco used a thousand-attorney firm to bring a bogus case against him, the impact on free speech was the point, not nitpicking and calling people names. With such ill will in your heart, how can some of the people writing here not need a nativity scene or something? But I think I was trying to say live and let live, be free in public parks and keep them open for all kinds of speech, not close them to all speech..
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 09:40 PM
There was a comment on my Facebook page about how the worst, most bitter and vicious arguments seem to happen between people who agree about almost everything. Someone posted this story in response: Tom Smith: I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are your Christian or Buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, "Baptist!" I said, "Wow! Me too! Are your Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:00 PM
My family has owned a home at Village Trailer Park for 26 years. I bought it for my son to live in when he was 16 and wouldn't stop waking me up coming in late. He lived in it for about five years and then his father lived in it for maybe 10 years after we got divorced. He remodeled it and lived in it with his new wife for two years and then we all started sharing it when we were in town because everyone lived somewhere else--Washington State, Louisiana, Utah, Arizona, Las Vegas, Ireland, London, nomading all over the world. $300 something a month in space rent shared among three families was cheap enough to have a place to leave things stored and have a great place to stay when we were here. My son had gone to John Adams when it was a junior high school, I practiced law here and worked for the City of Santa Monica for almost 20 years total, and none of us ever found anyplace we liked better. Besides, it became too expensive to buy a home anywhere else, since we already owned one here.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Reply #2 to SantaMonicaNative: Then developers came sniffing around and gave us an eviction notice to close the Park and "keep the land vacant for investment" in 2006. The City of SM has spent the intervening six years trying to get all the residents to move, since everything about this is illegal and they needed there to be no opposition. What we have learned about the corruption here! Incredible! My son's daughter became a basketball star and made the varsity at Samohi as a walk-on at try-outs as a freshman. For the past three years we fought this development and made SM our real home, renewing old ties and making new ones.. Autumn got injured and decided she'd never be a pro anyway, and she'd rather have a home here she could afford and try out a career that might not make much money but would make her happy. I invested in this home 26 years ago for my grandchildren, knowing it was covered by rent control and we could never be evicted. Like hell the City will get away with this one. They let developers build more and more units so it was profitable to Ellis all the renters out. Now they're starting on homeowners and they figured this would be easy, since people are not automatically in favor of trailer parks. Wrong!. So we're starting a non-profit to get a storefront, apply for grants to fund us, and fight this legally, as to every single development agreement. Enough is enough. Actually, too much is too much, as you say, SantaMonicaNative.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:52 PM
What is your freakin problem, Phil? I looked up all your comments, and you and I agree about everything, but you insist on being a jerk about this ban on seasonal displays in the Park. About the SLO Costco--you went to all the trouble and expense to call them and prove my friend is right, and then are you too lameo to see it? Where in that list you gave is there any CREDIT CARD except Amex and Costco cards, whatever those are? Really, I'm tired of this. The point is you cannot use Visa and MasterCard, as you can everywhere else. Get it? Not only should you be ashamed of yourself, you should be careful to stop alienating people who agree with you. Oh, wretched you, indeed. As a matter of fact, I think you are probably the only person in the world besides me who sees through "Judge" Finkel. Too bad you just refuse to get along. Maybe you should go to church more.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:58 PM
We're trying to think of a name for our non-profit to stop the City from destroying everything that was unique about Santa Monica. I'm thinking SMACK--Santa Monicans Against Chaos and Killing--as in traditions, people's quality of life, and the spirit of Santa Monica.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 29, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Well, Barnes has meandered into contradictions, revised restatements of her statements, qualifications of her restatements of her misstatements, has come to conclusion without any basis, sees agreement where none exists, imagines solutions where none have occurred and now descends into ad hominem rambles full of misinformation, disinformation and pure imagination about pretty much everything at hand. In other posts she has claimed to be an attorney. In checking with the State Bar I find only a Brenda Powers Barnes, license #66805, admitted to the Bar in 1975 and has since resigned. Either Barnes is not an attorney or is not an attorney licensed in Calif. or is licensed under another name. If she is the Brenda Powers Barnes of the State Bar, resigned 1975, she should not be practicing law and no one should be relying on her for counsel. Barnes may be having a dissociative event and I urge anyone who knows her to check on her. I will make no more comments about her as, clearly, something else is happening too her, possibly as a result of the Trailer Park debacle.
Brenda Barnes November 29, 2012 at 06:48 AM
I never claimed to be an attorney. I said I practiced law. That is a past tense. I'm not reading anything else you write.


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