Huffpost Los Angeles

Santa Monica Nativity Scene Ban Results From Atheist Controversy (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

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"As our banner urged, 'Reason Has Prevailed,'" Annie Laurie Gaylor, founder and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation told The Huffington Post.

Gaylor and other atheists are celebrating the Santa Monica City Council's unanimous vote Tuesday to prohibit churches, atheists, synagogues and other groups from setting up nativity scenes or other displays on Palisades Park.

The California beach city's nearly 50-year tradition of allowing 14 nativity scenes along two blocks overlooking the ocean became threatened in December when atheists managed to win 11 of the 14 spaces that the city made available through lottery. A synagogue also won a space, leaving only two spaces for nearby churches, which used to have all 14.

In response to what had become a national controversy, 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association formed a Save Our Nativity Scenes, or SONS, campaign and collected signatures to petition the city to come up with a lottery system with stricter guidelines.

However, the Council stated that doing so would be discriminatory and that the lottery system had become too divisive and difficult to manage, Santa Monica Patch reports. City Atty. Marsha Jones Moutrie told the Council that the city staff had received "threats, physical and legal" and that the city had received letters from two "K Street" (referring to DC lobbyists) law firms, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Council also feared that the open lottery could become, as Patch put it, "nightmarish" with "a gigantic sign proclaiming the Holocaust didn't actually happen or Leatherface standing over baby Jesus."

Gaylor commented to HuffPost about the outcome, "The free thinkers... played the game of the religionists and they outsmarted them." She continued, "They showed the Christian people of the city what it feels like to have a public park promoting views that offend your personal conscience. These views were on public property that were supposed to be owned equally by everyone."

However, proponents of the nativity scene argued that the atheists who gained spaces did not live in Santa Monica and that the nativity scenes brought the community together and reminded people about the true meaning of Christmas, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports.

One proponent, seen expressing their opinions in the CBS video above, said to Council, “It’s about God versus the devil.” Another man with a young child shouted, “Y’all say you love the Lord but no one prayed. David was a great king, he prayed to God and sought him first.”

Gaylor told HuffPost that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation's largest atheist and agnostic group. Although it does not have a California chapter, Freedom From Religion lent support to individuals from the area who happened to be members. She said that the group has brought almost 60 lawsuits in about 30 years.

The organization currently has 10 open lawsuits, she said, including a federal case in Montana against a Jesus shrine in a federal park and a lawsuit against Pennsylvania's declaration that 2012 is the Year of the Bible. The group just won a case in May where the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled it unconstitutional for the state to declare a Day of Prayer.

Click through photos of the atheist displays and nativity scenes in Santa Monica from December 2011:
All photos courtesy of Atheists United:

Santa Monica Navity Scene & Atheist Displays
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