As the holiday season kicks off, it appears there will be no manger in Palisades Park, on the bluff overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica. But there also won’t be anything else in the way of religious or anti-religious offerings for the holidays.
For six decades, the city had allowed an elaborate panorama of Nativity scenes to line Ocean Avenue. Last year, atheists insisted on equal access. Because the city was legally obligated not to consider content when it apportioned space -- even for the purpose of doling it out equally among applicants of different beliefs -- city officials resorted to a lottery. Atheists won 18 spots, Christians two, a Jewish group one. Christians, who for years had used 14 spots, were left unhappily to squeeze their display into two spots.
Not wanting to endure another controversial and costly lottery this year, the Santa Monica City Council voted in June to ban all displays in the park. But the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee filed suit in federal court asking that the Christmas displays be allowed. A judge ruled Monday that the group could not install its display while the case is pending. (So possibly next year, depending on how the lawsuit is finally resolved.)