A federal judge yesterday denied a bid by churches to force Santa Monica to reopen spaces in a city park to private displays, including life-sized Christmas Nativity scenes.
In a closely watched case that has attracted national attention, Judge Audrey B. Collins denied a request from the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to erect multiple large displays depicting the story of the birth of Jesus in the park overlooking the ocean. The coalition of churches has erected the displays every December since the 1950s.
Collins said the city was within its constitutional right to eliminate the exemption that had allowed the Nativity at the oceanfront Palisades Park because the change affected all comers — from Christians to Jews to atheists — and provided other avenues for public religious speech.
"This amounts to an erosion of First Amendment liberty for religious speech in this country," an attorney for the Nativity Scene committee, William Becker, said. "It's just one more step in the slippery slope."
The city is reportedly "very pleased" with the ruling, Santa Monica's attorney Barry A. Rosenbaum told the LA Times.
"(The judge) understood the government interests and that (groups wanting to put up displays) have a number of alternatives to erect displays," Rosenbaum told the newspaper.CLICK HERE TO READ RODMAN GOODE'S The Chronicles of Jack Best