Nativity scenes are out, rules judge

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Becky Yeh - California correspondent (

A California attorney says a judge's decision against the display of nativity scenes in a public park sets a negative precedent for religious and free speech liberties.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins has rejected a motion from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to allow private displays, including a nativity scene, to be set up in a city park. The complaint was filed in October to protect the 14-booth nativity scene that has been displayed every Christmas for roughly the past 60 years. But Collins ruled that the city was within its constitutional right to close the park from all private displays.

Becker, William J."The ruling takes us further down the slippery slope diminishing the rights of Christians and of most religious faiths, but especially Christians, to engage in religious speech in this country," laments William J. Becker, Jr., lead counsel for the Nativity Scenes Committee. "This case sets a precedent that allows dissenting voices to hack into a government system."

The city implemented a lottery system last year that ultimately allowed atheist groups to put up signs and banners in Palisades Park that attacked Christmas and Christianity. So in order to comply with all groups, the city chose to completely remove all displays.

"I think that it's just pretty obvious that if you have a 59-year tradition that … has been a pride of the community, has been something the community values -- that suddenly has been gamed, and on that basis, the city legislators make a decision to just suppress all speech in the form of displays -- that's pretty clearly an unconstitutional heckler's veto," Becker contends.

He may pursue an appeal of Judge Collins' decision.

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