Judge: Santa Monica Can Bar Nativity Display in Park

Controversy began last year after a lottery system was used to allot display space

A judge on Monday denied a group's bid for an injunction to force Santa Monica to reopen spaces in a city park to private displays that include Christmas Nativity scenes.

The earlier tentative ruling was formalized Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins. The ruling will be appealed, according to an attorney for the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes committee.

"This amounts to an erosion of First Amendment liberty for religious speech in this country," said William Becker, an attorney for the Nativity Scene committee. "It's just one more step in the slippery slope."

The controversy began after there were more requests for display spaces than allotted last year in Palisades Park. The city conducted a lottery to determine which groups could have displays.

The Nativity scene, which used to span across multiple display areas, was limited to just two spaces. Atheists won the majority of the spaces available last year.

"It simply bans the installation of private, unattended displays in one particular park," said Barry Rosenbaum, Santa Monica deputy district attorney.

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