A coalition of churches and individual Christians in Santa Monica, Calif., has decided to not let a city ban on Nativity scene displays at a public park deter them from showing their outward expressions of Christmas. Complete with an ensemble of people dressed as historical figures present at the time of Jesus' birth, groups began singing Christmas carols and telling the Nativity story at a park next to the city's pier Monday evening. They plan to continue each night until Dec. 23.
Some are calling the action a "creative loophole" in the recent ruling because it applies to unmanned nativity displays such as the ones at the park hosted by the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee for 59 years. While some of the city's Christian leaders are saying that, in spite of the ban, the chance to be present and interact with those visiting the park is a blessing.
"What I'm realizing this year that's exciting for me is that we are continuing to say we don't think that we are the only ones who get to celebrate this time of year," said Pastor Steve Snook of Metro Calvary Chapel Church in Santa Monica. "The idea is that everybody can celebrate the materialism of Christmas. They can celebrate the lights and family and all these things, but we want to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas and we're going to do it."
Metro Calvary Chapel is part of the coalition of churches that will take one of the nights to sing carols and host a live Nativity scene. Snook said he believes that the best way to keep the traditions of Christmas alive in Santa Monica is to continue celebrating in the public square in a loving and non-confrontational way.
"We don't need to be angry or we don't need to be upset," he said. "We just want to celebrate Christmas. It's (Nativity Scenes Display) been going on for 59 years. We want to keep it going."
Pastor Keith Magee of Trinity Baptist Church agrees. "We want to have a positive effect here in the community, because the nativity scenes have been a positive thing for the whole community, anyway, and we want to keep it that way," Magee told the local CBS News station.
The controversy over the Nativity displays at Palisades Park began last Christmas season when an atheist group "manipulated" the city's lottery system for spaces, according to the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, resulting in only two booths for the Christian group that normally uses 14 booths for the various Nativity-related scenes. The atheists then snubbed the spirit of the display area by not using all their spaces and using only a small space to display anti-religious sentiment.
A request from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to erect the large displays this year was denied primarily on the grounds that the city's administration was overburdened with the permit process for the displays, according to William Becker, Jr., the group's lawyer. The committee recently announced that the Nativity scenes will debut on private property this coming Sunday.
The idea of live Nativity scenes at Palisades Park and a public park area next to the pier may have been spearheaded by a national coalition who announced last week that it will hold a "Live Nativity Display" in Santa Monica on Saturday, Dec. 8. The same group plans to hold a live display on the U.S. Supreme Court steps in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
The group's leader told The Christian Post last week that he and his team kept focusing on the words "unmanned" and "unattended displays" in reference to the Nativity scenes in Santa Monica when reading the judge's ruling to uphold the ban.
"However, there are no prohibitions on live Nativity displays," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. "We believe that this 'Live Nativity Display' meets all the requirements of the Santa Monica City Council and the Federal Court."