Santa Monica's 60-Year-Old Nativity Scenes Tradition Moves to Private Property

Despite having to relocate to private property after losing a legal battle, the 60th annual display of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes will be available for viewing beginning this Sunday at the Southern California beach-side city.

"The community Christmas tradition will return to full strength this year with 14 scenes featuring life-size figures depicting events surrounding Christ's birth," said organizers.

"We are deeply grateful for the use of this new site to allow all of Santa Monica's distinctive Christmas Story to continue spreading the message of joy, hope, and peace found in the Christ child's birth to residents and visitors," said Nativity Scenes Committee Chairman Hunter Jameson.

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The long-standing tradition of a Nativity scene displayed at the Santa Monica's Palisades Park ended after a federal judge ruled recently that the city can ban such displays. A controversy over the display erupted last Christmas season when an atheist group "manipulated" the city's lottery system for spaces, according to a Nativity Scenes committee, resulting in only three booths for the Christian group that normally uses 14 booths for the various Nativity-related scenes.

A request from the committee to erect the large displays was denied primarily on the grounds that the city's administration was overburdened with the permit process for the displays, according to William Becker, the group's lawyer.

Jameson noted that visiting the display has become a cherished tradition for multiple generations of families. The opening ceremony at the new location will feature seasonal songs and the recital of the Christmas story.

Individuals, churches and businesses help sponsor the scenes through the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

The Nativity Scenes began in 1953 in Palisades Park and made their home there until the Santa Monica City Council banned them from the park this year. The ban sought to quell controversy that erupted after a small group of atheists used new rules and a city-mandated lottery to win most of the available display space last year in the park. The atheists erected some anti-religious displays and left most of their space empty.

Jameson said that Nativity Scenes organizers would appeal the dismissal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court under counsel William J. Becker, Jr.

"We will continue to fight for free speech and the free exercise of religion as we continue to seek restoration of the Nativity Scenes to its historic home in Palisades Park," Jameson said.

Meanwhile, a national coalition of Christian groups plans to hold a "Live Nativity Display" on Saturday, Dec. 8. 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."

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