Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Santa Monica Ends Discriminatory Winter Display

Tuesday, June 12, the Santa Monica city council voted to bring their longstanding program of providing premium public space along their majestic Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park every winter for Christian groups to put up life-size nativity creches of the story of Jesus' birth to an end.

The practice by the council has been long criticized by non-Christians and by church-state separation groups, including Americans United.  With over 500 Christian churches in the city limits of Santa Monica, they argued that there was no practical reason why the city needed to provide space for displaying the creches (in addition to the First Amendment problems the practice raised). In 2010, partly due to such criticism, the city council initiated a lottery system for 14 spaces to accommodate any and all local groups who were interested in sponsoring displays.  The system resulted in the Santa Monica Nativity Committee, the group of religious organizations who regularly sponsored the nativity scenes, getting only 3 spaces while the remaining spots were won by atheist groups.

The outcome raised an outcry from the SMNC, who brought in the Christian ACLJ to demand that something akin to the original system be restored.  It also garnered a recommendation letter from the Santa Monica city attorney that the program be abolished altogether because she could not see a solution that would satisfy everybody, exposing the city to a series of lawsuits from unhappy interest groups.

After bearing two council meetings of listening to constituent comments and opinions on the matter, the city council voted unanimously last night to accept the city attorney's recommendation and end the program.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Stand Up For Religious Freedom: Fri, Jun 8

Americans United - Greater Los Angeles chapter is organizing a "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally at the Ventura County Government Center from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Friday, June 8.

This rally is to support the US First Amendment and the restrictions placed on our government from using religious dogma as a basis for any US law, including religious exemptions to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

An anti-First Amendment group called the National Coalition to Stop the HHS Mandate will be there as well to demand that our government ignore the First Amendment and provide a special exemption for religious groups to opt out of the contraceptive coverage requirements of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.  Strangely, they are claiming that their demands are meant to "protect religious freedom", despite the results of their calls being to actually deny such exercise and force religious dogma on millions of working women in the United States.

The contraceptive coverage required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act supports the right of all women to make their own reproductive decisions. The complaint by religious groups over this requirement is based solely on religious dogma and has no secular or empirical basis. It is also rejected by the majority of Americans, including the98% of sexually active women of all faiths who regularly use birth control. We need to keep religious privilege out of our government and our laws, and expect the same respect for human rights and decency by religious groups that we expect from all other US institutions. Come out this Friday and show your support for this fundamental American value!