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Group sues Santa Monica to restore Nativity scene tradition

October 9, 2012 |  7:07 pm

Nativity scene

The group responsible for exhibiting an annual tableau of Nativity scenes in Santa Monica's Palisades Park for nearly 60 years filed suit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday seeking to restore the tradition.

The Santa Monica City Council in June voted to ban private displays in the park after atheists sparked a dispute over the tradition.

The life-size scenes celebrating Jesus Christ's birth were a fixture each December in the park, which  runs along the coastal bluffs. Last year, after requests for display space exceeded the space allotted, the city held a lottery to allocate slots. Atheists won 18 of 21 spots. A Jewish group won another for a menorah. The Nativity story that once took 14 displays had to be crammed into two.

Controversy raged, and City Atty. Marsha Jones Moutrie told the council that the city had received expressions of concern about 1st Amendment issues. She said the lottery would become increasingly costly and tricky to administer and suggested the council avoid the problem by prohibiting all unattended displays in parks.

William J. Becker Jr., an attorney for the Nativity scene proponents, said the group plans to seek an injunction requiring the city to allow the Nativity scenes to be installed until the outcome of the suit has been decided.


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Photo: One of the life-size Nativity scenes on display in Pacific Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue last December. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times