Battle over Christmas display goes to LA court

LOS ANGELES — Damon Vix didn’t have to go to court to push Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica. He just joined the festivities.

The atheist’s anti-God message alongside a life-sized nativity display in a park overlooking the beach ignited a debate that burned brighter than any Christmas candle.

Santa Monica officials canceled the city’s holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious squabble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus’ birth, while the city aims to eject the case.


‘‘It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,’’ said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

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Missing from the courtroom drama will be Vix and his fellow atheists, who are not parties to the case. Their role outside court highlights a tactical shift as atheists evolve into a vocal minority eager to get their non-beliefs into the public square as never before.

Three years ago, Vix applied for and was granted a booth in Palisades Park alongside the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. Vix hung a simple sign that quoted Thomas Jefferson: ‘‘Religions are all alike ­— founded on fables and mythologies.’’

Vix repeated the display the following year, and in 2011, he recruited 10 others to submit applications for tongue-in-cheek displays. The secular coalition won 18 of 21 spaces. The two others went to the traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display. National atheist groups are gearing up to battle for their own space alongside public Christmas displays in small towns across America this season.

Associated Press