A federal judge today denied a Christian group's attempt to force Santa Monica officials to re-open spaces in city parks for private displays, including Christian nativity scenes. U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to a religious right group.
Kudos to the Santa Monica secular activists who’ve stopped a violation of nearly six decades involving 14 area churches dominating Palisades Park by erecting life-sized nativity displays for the month of December. The reform started three years ago when FFRF member Damon Vix put up a sign by the endless Christian devotional displays. His sign quoted Thomas Jefferson on one side: “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies,” and on the other, “Happy solstice.” By 2011, Vix had recruited a local coalition to apply for display places, and the coalition scored a coup — winning 18 of 21 spaces. The area churches got a taste of their own medicine. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was proud to contribute our “let reason prevail” traditional sign (which was mutilated, but replaced).
The outrage by area Christian churches who have dominated the publicly-owned landscape at Palisades Park for years shows the harm of government-endorsed religion. These churches and their members have a sense of entitlement, actually, ownership of public lands. A religious right group is suing to demand the religious public forum be returned. But a city has no obligation to create a public forum, especially when it creates divisiveness and acrimony, turning beautiful and serene park land into virtual Christian advertisements each December, and turning non-Christians into outsiders.
It’s ironic that the churches in the Santa Monica Nativity Scene committee are suing over their so-called “free speech rights,” when there is no country where churches have greater liberty and speak more freely (or incessantly or loudly). These churches already own plenty of tax-exempt land with ample ground to house as many giant nativity scenes as they wish. But the city should not be forced to do their proselytizing for them.
The only war at this time of year is a war on the constitutional separation between state and church. Today, with this preliminary ruling, the state triumphed in one of the first such skirmishes of the year’s end.