Atheist Display Space Puts Squeeze on Santa Monica Nativity Scenes

It's beginning to feel a lot less like Christmas in Palisades Park

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Patrick Healy reports on the controversy over traditional Christmas displays in Palisades Park in Santa Monica. (Published Friday, Dec 9, 2011)

    Christianity is a myth, according to some Christmastime displays in Santa Monica's favorite public park.

    The Bay City has long accommodated counter-Christmas observances, as well as a series of nativity scenes made of vintage props and mannequins.
    Hunter Jameson is the chairman of the Nativity Scene Committee, and said it was the Nativity display that began the Palisades Park holiday tradition long ago.
    “We believe it fosters a great sense of community here and it is a true celebration of the real meaning of Christmas,” Jameson said.
    For many years, 13 local churches and a police officer’s group have each sponsored a Nativity scene – 14 in all.
    However, this season there will be room for only three, plus one Hanukkah display, because other, non-religious groups had more luck in the city's new lottery for display space.
    "The whole remainder of the two blocks was won by newcomers," Jameson said.
    Self-described atheist Damon Vix did not win space, but is allied with the two who claimed the lion's share.
    Vix acknowledges hanging the Freedom from Religion Banner, providing an anti-vandalism shield for a nod to the Winter Solstice, and helping to build the display that puts Christianity in the same realm with Santa Claus and Poseidon.
    "Our point is that these religious displays are offensive,” Vix said.
    It has become a hot topic among park strollers.
    Pat Devlin, a Buddhist, said the atheist displays don’t appeal to her, but sees them as harmless.
    The atheists won space for 18 displays, but so far have made use of only three.
    “If I were suspicious, I would think that these people are more interested at displacing and pushing out the nativity scenes with which they have some ideological differences,” Jameson said.
    Vix admitted he is using the system to promote his point of view, but “no more so than Christians have been doing for many years."
    He was surprised the city set up its lottery system to award most of the display space to the first two names drawn, he added.
    Regardless, the holidays will have a different look in Santa Monica's Palisades Park, at least for this season.
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