Nativity-Scene Battles: Score One for the Atheists

In California, a new challenge by atheists is changing the way municipalities handle this annual controversy

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Danny Moloshok / REUTERS

Ruben Lucas, 2, of Australia, and his great-grandmother Dot Brown look at a nativity-scene display at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2011

Thanksgiving ushers in a season of holiday spirit, department-store sales — and legal fights over Nativity scenes on public property. This year, opponents of these Christian displays have scored a victory: a federal judge upheld the decision of Santa Monica, Calif., to ban Nativity scenes on city-owned property. These battles have raged for decades, but the fight in Santa Monica is different. And it suggests why, in the years ahead, this issue may finally be put to rest.

The usual pattern for these fights has been for the ACLU or a similar group to sue whenever a scene of Christ’s birth goes up, with the argument that it violates the First Amendment ban on government support for religion. The court then looks at the display and tries to decide if it was put up mainly for a religious purpose or mainly for a secular purpose. In the Santa Monica case, however, critics tried a new tactic. Instead of asking a court to take down the Nativity scenes, located in Palisades Park, they asked for the right to set up their own displays on the same public property. Instead of arguing for censorship, they argued that they deserved equal free-speech rights.

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The man who introduced this approach is Damon Vix, a self-proclaimed atheist. Three years ago, Vix asked the city government to let him put up an antireligious display in the park alongside the Nativity scenes. Vix’s display included a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: “Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies.” Last year, Vix took it up a notch, encouraging other atheists and non-Christians to apply for their own displays.

He may not have won any points for good holiday cheer, but it was a smart legal move. The Supreme Court has ruled that when the government opens up public property to private citizens — when it creates a public forum for speech — it cannot discriminate in favor of some viewpoints and against others. A city policy saying Christian displays were allowed on public property but anti-Christian ones were not would violate the First Amendment. To make sure it was acting legally, Santa Monica decided last year to hold a lottery for anyone who wanted to put up an end-of-year display in the park.

That did not work out well for supporters of Nativity scenes. Atheists won 18 of the 21 available spaces in the lottery, while a Jewish entrant won one spot and the Nativity scene — which had previously taken up 14 spaces — was left with just two. When the displays went up, vandals tore down an atheist banner. This year, to avoid the effort and cost of running the lottery and dealing with the fallout, the Santa Monica city council simply decided to ban all private, unattended displays in city parks.

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A coalition of churches challenged the new policy as a violation of their religious rights. But on Nov. 19, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins ruled in favor of the city, saying it had the right to institute an across-the-board ban. That ruling is clearly right on the law: the government does not have to let private citizens put up displays on public property, so long as it bans everyone equally.

This tactic of fighting Nativity scenes by demanding equal access seems to be growing. Last year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation encouraged its 17,000 members to put up antireligious displays next to Nativity scenes on public property. The group got a sign posted near a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in Athens, Texas, that said, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven and no hell.”

“There is a growing secular movement who wants to be vocal,” Vix told KABC last year. “We’re happy about what we believe, and we believe we have an equal say, and we’re going to say it.” Demographics bear this out: polls show that even though the U.S. remains an overwhelmingly Christian country, the fastest-growing “religious” group is people with no religion. A Pew survey this year found that nonreligious people comprise 20% of the population and one-third of adults under age 30.

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Does this mean Nativity scenes are on the way out — something many Americans would be sad to see? It shouldn’t. There is a whole lot of private land in the country owned by people who would be happy to host a Nativity scene. This includes churches (Santa Monica alone has more than 50 of them). The future may not be banning Nativity scenes in public during the holiday season but privatizing them.

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225 comments
TruthFinder
TruthFinder

I'm going to make a claim now. Five headed Elephants exist in the North Pole. There are 29 of them. Will you take my word, or do I have to prove it to you?

TruthFinder
TruthFinder

Any claim made has to be backed up right?.... I can't claim to override gravity and float two feet above the ground without a demonstration can I? Why does religion get a free ride? We all want our commercial airliners to work properly while we ride on them. We trust quality control technicians to do their duty and make sure the plane is safe for travel. No cutting corners....But religion can't be scrutinized the same way. Why not?....Religion is only ONE of many things i scrutinize on a daily basis. There are hundreds of other subjects I have to contend to as well. Every subject has equal scrutiny in my book, and religion doesn't have a hallway pass, not that I know. Everything that moves is subject to scrutiny.

TheXian
TheXian

Equal representation is fine for me. Seems selfish to try and squash others opinion while I want to promote my own.

j.rodrigo.mora
j.rodrigo.mora

"Free speech" should be for everyone, also for people who want to debunk myths and nonsense...Besides, if the so-called Catholics were even consistent, they would put more emphasis on Christ's birth than in Santa claus, Christmas trees, and all the sickening consumism.Agnostic people, like myself, are the fastest growing silent minority in this country (and probably elsewhere). Religions (in all flavors) are the root of all evils in this World, and might certainly lead to its demise. Virtues like love, compassion, and rationality are inherent to human beings (even to animals) and they do not need to be 'taught' by religions. If all humanity would share and practice these values most of our problems would not exist, or at the very least they would be addressed in a rational and compassionate manner. I hope we will soon evolve to fully understand and practice these Universal truths, before it's too late...Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2012/11/26/nativity-scene-battles-atheists-are-now-creating-their-own-displays/#ixzz2DwQrWhJ1

Winlor22
Winlor22

I don't understand why people get so worked up about this.  The Nativity scene is symbolic on Christmas as a sign of hope, and I don't know why atheists get so worked up about it. I'm Catholic but it doesn't anger me to see The Menorah or a symbol of Kwanza on Christmas. All of these are signs of hope and call for a time of rejoicing. It seems like all Atheists do is try to undermine people's religions. I mean I respect that they don't believe in God, but can they show some respect for people who DO believe in God?  It's sad that during Christmas, a time of rejoicing and love, people are fighting legal battles over religion.

TruthFinder
TruthFinder

I still can't believe that in this day and age we have billions of people believing in fairytales. There are thousands of gods to choose from and each and every single one of them claim they have a monopoly on truth. Even within the Christian religion there are thousands of denominations who can't agree amongst themselves. It's a freaking joke. We still have billions of people who rely on relics written by ignorant old men living in the bronze age as facts. They all can't be right, so they all must be wrong. If the religious zombies can't see that red flag then It's futile to convince them of their delusions.

These religious robots need to wake up from their brainwashed induced stupors and start using their brains instead of myths. It's unbelievable to me. It's so blatantly obvious that 99% of the people who hold a belief  system were born from a region on theis planet that supports that belief, another red flag...DUH !...it's not rocket science folks. These people are so fused into a trance of delusions that no amount of logic will undo their attachment.

FlowerJasmin
FlowerJasmin

There is a saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Whenever people are in life and death situation they all beg God and I mean all.

There is a writer of Medieval times Grigor Narekatsi- he has a great book called " Book of Lamentations" (it is translated from Armenian). It explains religion better then bible itself.  According to him, mankind's assimilation with God is possible not by logic, but by feelings. Atheists also have religion - many are perverts, love money, drugs, hating a Christianity is also a religion that they follow, it is a mindless following that they supposedly decry. They can believe in voodoos and in fate but will crap on somebody else's understanding what is fate.

Till now there is very little known about pain and what is it because nobody can describe it, nobody can describe what love is. Jesus is about faith and does not need proof. Faith is something that gives people power in life whatever it might be, it does not require any proof.

jopen7
jopen7

Mankind has observed the winter solstice for thousands of years before the jesus myth was ever created by man. The winter solstice is the reason for the season and holiday pay...you pagan.

JonathanMartin
JonathanMartin

Smart legal move, stupid public relations. The descent atheists that I know would be abhored at this. Religious extremists are the only ones who win here - they use these types of practices as pretexts to push to end the separation of church and state

PaperbackBook
PaperbackBook

How many of you "anit-religious" turn down your 8 hour's of pay for the Christmas holiday?

MacdonaldBank
MacdonaldBank

There is no scientific evidence to prove any of the cross related bogus elements of christianity and other religions. Our early human ancestors; on this earth … go back more than 6 million years … 5,996,000 years before the Greeks, Romans and the Jews. Christianity is basically a 2012 year old fictional cult. In the year 300 AD when Emperor Constantine, who to some was the first pope; went on to fabricate & market Christianity - a fantasy - which turned out to be one of the most hateful & evil concoctions ever perpetrated on the world. The evil writings in Leviticus 18:22 … against gays – depict: “P” … “priestly rules” & expanded by the pope; homophobes and religious frauds … to attack the gay community and never meant to apply to the public -- but to priests. Leviticus was written long after Moses -- 600BC.The pope and churches fully aware that Leviticus 18:22 applies to priests only … refuse to remove this stigma … maliciously persecuting gays. Kids are being bullied into suicide …!

Martian_14
Martian_14

I guess these guys do not have the guts to go after muslins..... They  are the real danger. Not a nativity scene...

ptcruiser5850
ptcruiser5850

Lets see the "no religion" cohort reject the secular notion of Christmas, then it will have weight.

prioripete
prioripete

The show shall continue although symbols lose their objective meanings to subjective materialism.  It is in fact a bad thing for human civilisation when no longer able to distinguish the difference between symbols, abstracts, objective values and their social contribution to the organisation of society. 

I think some people might turn up to worship the ass and the goat, totally oblivious to baby Jesus.

JackHudson
JackHudson

If I may say so, I don't even think we would be having this discussion had it not been for the fact that most Christians, starting with me, have failed to live the life CONSISTENTLY, before a lost and dying world.  This is what has made the church of little significance in today's society. Gandhi has been quoted as telling Billy Graham "Mr.Graham, I will become Christian when I see a Christian"

The atheists are free to believe as they wish.The Nativity scene should be a non issue.

Had more of us not taken the grace given us for granted, maybe more people would be willing to consider the fact that the Bible is miraculously indestructible.Throughout the ages, the Bible has been the major object of satan's assaults.Celsus tried to destroy it with his brilliance, but he failed.Porphyry tried to demolish it with the hammer of philosophy, but he failed.Diocletian tried to stamp it out with imperial power, proclaiming by edict Extincto Nomine Christianorium, meaning"the name of the Christians has been extinguished", but he failed. Voltaire said about (about 1775)"Fifty years from now the world will hear no more of the Bible" His office later became a center for the distribution of Bibles.There are more copies of the Bible by far than ANY book of antiquity. 

It is claimed that the trustworthiness of any historical account is based on the evidence for that account. We believe Julius Caesar lived-only 10 manuscripts exist of him. We believe Plato existed-only 7 manuscripts exist. We believe George Washington lived and was our first president-we have copies of his first and second inaugural,crossing the Delaware etc., but much less than we have of the Bible.

Consider this: there are over 4105 full and partial manuscripts of the New Testament. This is 40 times the number of manuscripts of other great historical figures.What about the Old Testament? The oldest manuscript we had of the Old Testament prior to 1947 were dated AD 900. But the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947, contain fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament dated 150 years before Christ, and these books read almost word for word as did the manuscripts dated AD 900. No other book from the ancient world has as much manuscript support or is as closely tied to the original as the Bible, not to mention archeological findings. It is impossible for God's word to die since "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8, 1Peter 1:24)

HanySaid
HanySaid

How in the world is a Nativity scene offensive to a non-christian or an atheist? Is it somehow sending a subliminal message to them that is torturous in some way?

Do these "Atheist fundamentalists", as opposed to normal and sane atheists, know that their public education, Healthcare, political system, judicial system, civil liberties and freedom are all thanks to the very thing they want exterminated?

The existence of individuals like Damon Vix gives more validity to the so-called "Fables and Myths". But you shall not prevail Damon, nor a 1000 or a million of you, because it was promised that even ....."the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

You know, Nativity Scenes and Atheists are not equivalent opposites.

Every non-Christian religion as well as agnostics and just non-religious people aren't served by nativity scenes as well.

America is supposed to be a country of religious freedom including the right to be simply non-religious, but a lot of icons, taboos, and even laws and restrictions relate specifically to Christianity and even secular Christianity.

That having been said, Christmas, although ostensibly about Christ and Christianity is a significant time of celebration and it extends beyond simple religious boundaries and generally promotes humanitarian actions. 

(Although a decided excess of economic overkill is also common).

Bottom line Atheism is not the only alternative to Christianity, but Christmas and Nativity scenes are no longer simply Christian property either.

rampagingscorpio
rampagingscorpio

I'm tired of seeing 'men' who weigh 135 pounds and are wearing their 12 year old sisters jeans in or on public property. How do I go about getting the government to ban that which is offensive to my eyes?

Margery
Margery

I am an atheist.  However, I have absolutely no problems with Nativity scenes but do believe that they should be in church yards and/or private yards, as it does seem that when they are on government property it implies to the viewer that the city itself is Christian and endorses the display.

IMO, nativity scemes give me the opportunity to explain to my non-believing g-grandkids that the myth of the Baby Jesus' birth is why we have Christmas, and they I go on to tell them how Santa Claus developed.   It is a great teaching tool.

EdSinderman
EdSinderman

Remember, separation of church, this means you have your religion I have or not have mine. Santa Monica did the  right thing. If you truly believe in the US Constitution then we need to keep everyone's most personal things out of the government's hands

JackHudson
JackHudson

George Washington - “The hand ofProvidence has been so conspicuous in all this (the colonies’ victories in theAmerican War for Independence), that he must be worse than an infidel that lacksfaith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge hisobligations.”

 Listen to Patrick Henry for a minute:“It cannot be emphasized toostrongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists,but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! In hisown memoirs”

 THE STATE IS NOT THE MASTER OF THE CHURCH AND THE CHURCH ISNOT THE MASTER OF THE STATE. THE CHURCH IS THE CONSCIENCE OF THE STATE AND THESTATE IS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THE CHURCH TO SO BE.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Christians should celebrate Christmas as Jesus proclaimed it to be in the bible. Or like the first Christians celebrated it after Jesus death.

Truth be told; the way we celebrate it has nothing to do with the first Christians and is a parasitic relationship between several different cultures and commercialism.

And atheists and religious people are sparring over which form of human expression should be shown in public.

Somehow I have a hard time either being moved by any sides argument for or against or to keep myself from laughing.

JohnForsthoffer
JohnForsthoffer

America, the land where people can practice their own religion have freedom of speech blah blah blah blah blah, and now they want to take that away from each other. Idiots.

DavidFernandez
DavidFernandez

I am a deep-practicing Roman Catholic, and my opinion is that anyone has the option to set up a display of their religious or non-religious or anti-religious beliefs, in a civil manner, non-hateful nor gratuitously adversarial, in the public square or street.  In fact, this is no different than in the world at large, where all these beliefs and points of view are always being played out.  In this case the dynamic is concentrated in a given area, like a microcosm of the world-wide situation.  As a Catholic who knows and believes in the Nativity, the Life, the Teachings and Miracles, the Passion and Death, and the Resurrection of the Christ Messiah Jesus, I am not threatened by the impish fracases because in the end "not even the gates of Hell will prevail against my Church", as the Lord himself said.  All of sacred scripture including the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, not to mention the Book of Enoch, the Testament of Solomon, and other even pre-Abrahamic writings recount the ancient and never-ending conflict between those who rebelled and continue to rebel against the Most High Creator God.  In the end, the Most High will again prevail.  May all have a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas.  Shalom!  Salaam!  Feliz Navidad a todos!

jym.allyn
jym.allyn

The recent Presidential election was not  a contest between our richest 1% (who has much of their wealth from government sanctioned activities such as hedge-funds) versus the less wealthy 99% rest of the US, or of the so-called 47% that wants to sponge off of government entitlements such as welfare rather than work (versus government entitlements such as tax breaks).

Instead it was a contest of the 46% of our population that believes in the Theory of the Virgin Birth verses the educated people who believe in the Fact of Evolution.

Perhaps these challenges will change the status quo and make our society realize that any religion based on impossible miracles is flawed cult and a lie.

That was what Thomas Jefferson was trying to communicate to our "free" society.

kanonab
kanonab

I am proud that in America everyone has the right to express their opinion - what I am NOT proud of is that same right has allowed those opinions to curtail or stop altogether the practices of Christmas and other holidays that some deem to be politically incorrect - what about me? and thos liek me - -we enjoyed these practices long before those of you who are offended at every turn came to express your views. Can you not turn away  - change the channel - or ignore these things that offend you just like I have to?  We are a nation of mixed cultures and beliefs - we should be enjoying the richness of all of those cultures and beliefs - - not being offended or pressured into making them own own unless we choose to. 

Stand up for Nativity scenes and Menorahs and Kwanzaa - and all other cultural and religious celebrations!

Sincerely - An American who Still Wishes to Stand for Being An American!

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Proverbs 1:28-30.......28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.29 Because they hated knowledgeAnd did not choose the fear of the Lord,30 They would have none of my counselAnd despised my every rebuke.............