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Judge rejects Nativity displays in Santa Monica

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 10:17 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — There’s no room for the baby Jesus, the manger or the wise men this Christmas in a Santa Monica park following a judge’s ruling Monday against churches that tried to keep a 60-year Nativity tradition alive after atheists stole the show with anti-God messages.

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins rejected a motion from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to allow the religious display this season while their lawsuit plays out against the city.

Collins said the city was within its constitutional right to eliminate the exemption that had allowed the Nativity at the oceanfront Palisades Park because the change affected all comers — from Christians to Jews to atheists — and provided other avenues for public religious speech.

The coalition of churches that had put on the life-sized, 14-booth Nativity display for decades argued the city banned it rather than referee a religious dispute that began three years ago when atheists first set up their anti-God message alongside the Christmas diorama.

The judge, however, said Santa Monica proved that it banned the displays not to squash religious speech but because they were becoming a drain on city resources, destroying the turf and obstructing ocean views. Churches can set up unattended displays at 12 other parks in the city with a permit and can leaflet, carol and otherwise present the Christmas story in Palisades Park when it is open, she said.

“I think all of the evidence that is admissible about the aesthetic impacts and administrative burden shows that this was a very reasonable alternative for the city to go this way — and it had nothing to do with content,” she said during a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles.

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