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Santa Monica Nativity Scenes received just three of the 21 plots available at Palisades Park this year designated for holiday– or seasonably– themed displays, down from its usual 14.
Photo by Leslie Miranda
Santa Monica Nativity Scenes received just three of the 21 plots available at Palisades Park this year designated for holiday– or seasonably– themed displays, down from its usual 14.

News, Holiday, Parks, Santa Monica, Religion

Nativity Scenes Plotting Ahead At Palisades Park In Santa Monica

Posted Dec. 23, 2011, 12:54 am

Parimal M. Rohit / Staff Writer

With Christmas on Sunday, many families across Santa Monica will spend the weekend honoring old traditions, starting new ones, reuniting with loved ones, or just using the spare time to catch up on some rest.

There is one small segment of town where certain people have not been able to honor old traditions to the fullest, causing a group of churches to alter the way they collectively pay homage to Christianity’s most holy of days.

At Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, the group known as Santa Monica Nativity Scenes (SMNS) has publicly and proudly told the story of the birth of Jesus Christ via a large nativity scene along Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park.

The large nativity scene display has occupied 14 designated plots of Palisades Park for almost 60 years. This year, that display has been significantly whittled down due to a sudden spike in competition as the alliance of churches became just one of more than a dozen groups applying to use the 21 available plots for holiday- or seasonably-themed displays at Palisades Park.

Previously, SMNS, which is a coalition of local churches and groups, was one of only three applicants requesting use of 16 of the 21 allocated spaces. However, this year, with City Hall reporting 13 applicants seeking permission to all 21 plots for its respective displays, land suddenly became scarce (a group may request up to nine plots).

Due to the increase in demand and because City Hall must consider all applicants per the First Amendment, a lottery system was employed to award he plots. SMNS was granted just three plots, down from its usual 14.

In response, SMNS started a “Save Our Nativity Scenes” petition, in hope the group could again erect 14 unique nativity scene displays as had in years past.

Hunter Jameson, Chairman of SMNS, told The Mirror its nativity scene displays had become a local tradition.

“We are asking the city give the nativity scenes the preference not on the basis of its content but because it is a historical event and is supported by a local group in a local park,” Jameson said. “People have been very gracious. We have received several hundred signers on our petition.”

The petition has been both online and on paper.

The SMNS website further elaborated on the group’s position on the matter, believing “a small group of out-of-town atheists schemed to monopolize display space” and that the Save Our Nativity Scenes petition could help the group retain “this time-honored local tradition in a local park in 2012.”

While the group believes the surge in plot requests is attributable to individuals and groups outside of Santa Monica, city officials cannot discriminate against the applicants.

Palisades Park is considered a public space where, under a First Amendment application, City Hall is handcuffed as to the level of regulation it may impose on those who wish to use the area. The Supreme Court has ruled governments of any level are restricted from prohibiting communication or expression unless there is some sort of content-neutral justification.

One public entity attorney said City Hall might not prohibit a group from seeking to use any number of 21 plots merely based on a group’s location or religious affiliation (or lack thereof).

“This concerns both public space and religion, so the First Amendment is definitely at play,” attorney Szu Pei Lu told The Mirror. “It’s not as simple as allowing one group to be selected over another based upon geography or its mission.”

Lu also added that a group’s established presence in a public forum for any length of time is also not a legal standard in selecting which organization is entitled to continued use of that space.

In addition to SMNS, one plot was assigned to a Jewish group, while the remaining spaces were granted to a pair of individuals to share “solstice” wishes with passersby.

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Comments

Dec. 23, 2011, 10:15:16 am

UglyTruth said...

Simple historical truth: rag headed men living in caves invented spirits, gods, religion, faith. “Man Created God. Amen, Amen, Amen!” © 2011 Accept this truth and it shall set you free. 100s and100s and 100s years in countries all around the world. Possible largest child-sex-abuse ring in history, the Roman Child-sex-abuse Church. 20,000 in Netherlands 300,000 in Spain How many more?

Dec. 23, 2011, 9:35:09 pm

Gordonsantamonica said...

One must ask if there are any visual standards that must be met. Are there any The Fairness of Religious or Non Religious Holiday “Dioramas” in Palisades Park!!!!???? First of all if “Dioramas” of any kind are to be built on a huge scale one must determine … what is the fair process of selection if any? standards that must be met with respect to our human senses? Who should establish these standards? When will the contest for a place in the Palisades Park begin? In case our city leaders decide to look at another method of selection you might include or at least consider some if not all of the following ideas.... 1. Determine number of spaces available. 2. Determine the size of each location. 3. Determine structural requirements. 4. Determine Safety requirements. 5. Determine the overall standards of presentation. 6. Determine the subject matter. 7. Determine the minimum and maximum aspects of the large scale Diorama. 8. Determine who can evaluate those that wish to present their large scale Dioramas in either an illustrative or a small scale Diorama. 9. Determine who can submit their ideas. 10. Determine if the presentations by individuals fall into groupings or separate presentations. Some of the groupings that might be considered are included in the following ... Religions Cherokee Indian Religion Inca Religion Baptist Religion Amish Religion Lutheran Religion Mormon Religion Chinese Religion Islamic Religion Hindu Religion Muslim Religion Catholic Religion Sikh Religion Buddhist Religion Church of Christ Science Jehovah Witness Kaballah Religion Episcopal Religion Presbyterian Religion Taoism Religion Protestant Religion Quaker Religion Spirituality Buddhism Christianity Hinduism Islam Judaism Bible Atheism Expert Q

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