Battle over Christmas display goes to court

By Gillian Flaccus

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 2012 9:41 p.m. MST

This Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 photo shows avowed atheist Damon Vix in his home in Burbank, Calif. Vix last year won two-thirds of the booths in the annual, city-sponsored lottery to divvy up spaces in a live-sized Nativity display in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif. But he only put up one thing: A sign that read "Religions are all alike - founded on fables and mythologies." Vix left the rest of his allotted spaces empty, and in so doing, upended a Christmas tradition that began in Santa Monica nearly 60 years ago. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

LOS ANGELES — Damon Vix didn't have to go to court to push Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica. He just joined the festivities.

The atheist's anti-God message alongside a life-sized nativity display in a park overlooking the beach ignited a debate that burned brighter than any Christmas candle.

Santa Monica officials snuffed the city's holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious rumble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus' birth, while the city aims to eject the case.

"It's a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested," said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Missing from the courtroom drama will be Vix and his fellow atheists, who are not parties to the case. Their role outside court highlights a tactical shift as atheists evolve into a vocal minority eager to get their non-beliefs into the public square as never before.

National atheist groups earlier this year took out full-page newspaper ads and hundreds of TV spots in response to the Catholic bishops' activism around women's health care issues and are gearing up to battle for their own space alongside public Christmas displays in small towns across America this season.

"In recent years, the tactic of many in the atheist community has been, if you can't beat them, join them," said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project in Washington.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS