A California attorney says one city isn't willing to come up
with a "creative" way to satisfy constitutional requirements and
avoid banning free speech completely.
Attorneys have filed a complaint in the United States District
Court, requesting that the city of Santa Monica revert a policy
that permanently bans displays in the park (see earlier story).
Every Christmas for the past 60 years, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee
displayed a 14-booth nativity scene in Palisades Park. But last
year a lottery system was implemented, allowing atheist groups to
put up signs and banners that attacked Christmas and Christianity.
They claimed 18 of the 21 spaces and only used three of them, one
of which featured pictures of King Neptune, Jesus Christ, Santa
Claus and Satan and read, "37 million Americans know MYTHS when
they see them. What myths do you see?"
So in order to comply with
all groups, the city has chosen to completely remove the displays.
But William J. Becker, Jr., a First Amendment attorney and lead
counsel for the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, thinks
there is a better solution.
"The city decided that it didn't want to have to come up with
some kind of plan that would be content neutral and therefore
satisfy constitutional requirements," he laments.
"By giving a permit to the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes
Committee, they would be favoring the committee over people with
But Becker contends there is a simpler way for the city to deal
with the issue:
"Open the forum to winter displays or winter holiday displays
celebrating the winter seasonal holidays," he suggests. "That would
include Christmas as well as Hanukkah, and I suppose Winter
Solstice, if that's going to be regarded as a winter holiday."
The Becker Law Firm is assisted by the Pacific Justice Institute
and expects a favorable response from the court.