(Photo: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)
A Los Angeles County beach city's battle over how to allocate park spaces during the Christmas season after atheist groups overpowered a nativity scene last year by dominating the majority of the lots available will continue until at least April.
The Santa Monica City Council voted earlier this week to set aside a controversial decision on the Christmas and winter displays in Palisades Park until its April meeting "to allow church groups and other supporters time to develop ways to keep the program going," according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Last Christmas season, there were 13 individuals that entered the race for the 21 spaces available at the park rather than the usual three. The unusually high demand for spots, especially by atheists, prompted Santa Monica's City Hall to implement a random lottery system to determine who would have access to the spots.
That process left the Santa Monica Nativity Committee with only two spaces on which they were able to put up only three of the usual 14 scenes.
City council member Bob Holbrook asked for delay of the final vote at Tuesday's meeting "after supporters of the displays flooded his inbox with pleas for a reprieve," the Daily Press reported.
"These people have never asked for anything before," Holbrook said.
The ordinance that council members were initially scheduled to vote on would have potentially ended a 57-year tradition of having Christian displays of the nativity in Palisades Park.
In the past, the displays were put up by a coalition of 13 churches in Santa Monica and the police officers' union. Under last year's new lottery system by the city, atheists won 18 of the 21 spaces allotted for displays.
The Christian Post reported last December that the organization, Save Our Nativity Scene (S.O.N.S.) – comprised of the same group of churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association – were already rallying for support.
Mark Freeman, office manager for Pilgrim Lutheran Church, one of the churches of S.O.N.S., told CP last year, "I hope and pray that it can go back to the way it was."
One of the arguments being made by nativity scene supporters in Santa Monica is that the atheists applying for the spaces were not residents of the city.
"The question for council members ... is whether to capitulate to a small group of out-of-town agitators that want to censor the Santa Monica Christmas story and its message of love, joy and peace, or to direct city staff to undertake further serious effort to find a way to preserve this beloved tradition," Hunter Jameson, a spokesman for Nativity-scene supporters group, wrote in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, published in an article Wednesday.