(Photo: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)
A national coalition of Christian groups has joined the fray over the ending of the nearly 60-year tradition of Nativity scenes at a park in Santa Monica, Calif., by announcing it will hold a "Live Nativity Display" on Saturday, Dec. 8. The announcement comes on the same day a U.S. District Judge officially dismissed a lawsuit filed by a local church coalition seeking to challenge the city's ban on Nativity and other seasonal displays in public areas.
The Live Nativity Display campaign is being led by the Christian Defense Coalition and Faith and Action, which are both based in Washington, D.C., along with local Southern California Christians and pastors.
"Sadly, we are seeing an erosion of expressions of faith in the public square," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. "This is especially true during the Christmas season. We must be constantly reminded that the Constitution promises freedom 'of' religion not freedom 'from' religion.
"After nearly 60 continuous years, it is critical that a Nativity scene remain in Palisades Park. We must continue to fight for religious freedom and the First Amendment as well as embracing the powerful message of Christmas which is: 'Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward man.'"
Mahoney told The Christian Post on Thursday that the group does not need a permit for the event planned between 1 and 4 p.m. because the current ruling applies to unmanned nativity displays such as the one used by the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee for the 59-year-old tradition.
"We launched the Nativity Project seven years ago in which we encourage people around the country to display nativities in the public square and if they are having problems we help them," Mahoney said. "In fact, this Wednesday we are having a live Nativity in front of the United States Supreme Court and Capitol. Next Thursday, we are in midtown Manhattan at the Fox News studios."
After hearing about the case in Santa Monica two weeks ago, the group discovered that the ruling to ban Nativity scenes referred to "unattended displays" in Palisades Park.
"However, there are no prohibitions on live Nativity displays," Mahoney said. "We believe that this 'Live Nativity Display' meets all the requirements of the Santa Monica City Council and the Federal Court."
The controversy over the display about the birth of Jesus at Palisades Park erupted last Christmas season when an atheist group "manipulated" the city's lottery system for spaces, according to the Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee, resulting in only two booths for the Christian group that normally uses 14 booths for the various Nativity-related scenes.
Last Monday, Judge Audrey B. Collins denied a request from the committee to erect the large displays, primarily on the grounds that the city's administration was overburdened with the permit process for the displays, according to Becker. A temporary injunction to allow the displays to go up this Christmas season was not allowed.
Jeff White, one of the organizers of the live Nativity event and church leader at Lake Gregory Community Church in Crestline added, "As a youth pastor, I often teach the importance of religious freedom and the need to see those freedoms are protected. By setting up this 'Live Nativity Display' in Palisades Park we ensure for future generations the right for everyone to express their faith traditions in the public square free from government intimidation or harassment."
In regards to the judge's ruling on Thursday, the committee's attorney, William J. Becker Jr. stated, "This is a victory for atheists, anti-Christians and people who don't believe the 1st Amendment belongs as much to religious speakers as it does to secular and anti-religious speakers. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas. He has stolen our liberty."