Row erupts after atheists win park’s nativity spots

| 16/12/2011

6a00d8341c630a53ef01675ed022a5970b-640wi.jpg(LATimes): Organizers of Santa Monica's well-known Christmas Nativity scene at Palisades Park are accusing atheists of "hijacking" the tradition. Atheist groups objected to use of the park by churches to espouse a religious message and applied to the city of Santa Monica for their own spaces.  Officials used a lottery to dole out spots in the prime location along Ocean Avenue. The atheists turned out to be the lucky ones: Of the 21 plots in the park open for displays, they won 18.  The Nativity story that once took 14 displays to tell — from the Annunciation, continuing to the manger in Bethlehem and onto infant Jesus' journey to Egypt and back to Nazareth — had to be abridged to three and crammed into two plots.

"A small group of out-of-town atheists is trying to hijack Santa Monica's nearly 60-year-long Christmas tradition," said Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, the group that works with more than a dozen churches and civic groups to organize the display.

Jameson said he intends to keep the Nativity tradition many have enjoyed since1953 from being displaced. Palisades Park, he said, is the "historic home where it really belongs."
"Their goal is getting rid of us, and squelching our 1st Amendment rights," said Jameson, 65, who no longer lives in Santa Monica but still worships at Lighthouse Church of Santa Monica.

Patrick Elliott, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said tradition is no excuse for violating the boundaries between church and state. "Just because they're long-standing doesn't mean they're right," he said.

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Category: World News

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