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.

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