Santa Monica City Nixes Decades-Old Nativity Scene

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After nearly 60 years, Santa Monica, Calif., leaders said "no" to a Nativity display at a city park.

A series of eight-foot Nativity scenes had become a Christmas tradition at Santa Monica's Palisades Park in California.

City officials banned the displays, saying the Nativity scenes block the view, foot traffic destroys the grass, and it costs the city too much to manage the private exhibits.

The churches that put up the Nativity scenes do not believe those reasons. They claim in a federal lawsuit from atheists who flooded the city with paperwork are to blame.

The churches say their freedom of speech has been violated, but a federal judge backed the city.

"This amounts to an erosion of First Amendment liberty for religious speech in this country," responded William Becker, an attorney representing the coalition of churches.

Attorneys for the city of Santa Monica say the displays create a burden that has been growing for 20 years. Last year in a lottery process, atheists and secular groups won most of the display spaces.

The city and the court say the content of the message was not the issue but resources. Santa Monica leaders say they had to hire two staff people who spent 245 hours processing applications.

"I truly doubt that it's about the resources," Kate McPherson, a Santa Monica resident said. "I think it's probably more that Santa Monica doesn't really want to deal with the controversy."

"I kind of like the tradition of having them out and just being able to walk by when you feel like it," said Jeanie Collins, another Santa Monica resident.

The court said the churches can pursue other options. Christmas caroling is still permitted in Palisades Park and displays are allowed at other parks.

The attorney for the churches said they will continue to fight in court and seek another location for the Nativity scenes.

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.