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Nativity scenes share space with atheist messages in Santa Monica

December 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
For decades churches have put up nativity scenes in Santa Monica's Palisades Park. But this year the display is much smaller because atheists have taken many of the spots.

Santa Monica churches have used most of the 21 spots set aside for holiday displays at Palisades Park. It's been that way for nearly 60 years.

This year it changed. Atheist groups applied for and received most of the spots through a lottery held by the city that left three spots for the nativity scenes and a menorah display. The rest are signs displaying atheist beliefs.

Damon Vix, an atheist, helped put up quotes challenging religious beliefs.

"It's not supposed to be used to promote religion," said Vix. "It is explicitly promoting religion, and it has been, even though the city has not directly financially supporting it. And that's the main issue here, is the separation of church and state."

Hunter Jameson is a spokesman for a group of churches.

"The truth of the matter is, they are trying to suppress our 1st Amendment rights by pushing us out of the park," said Jameson. "We have no objection to their being there. It's fine. They can be there and express their views all they want. They have been there in the past.

"I don't understand why the atheists community seems to be intimidated by something that's been up for 60 years, and all of the sudden this year they seem to be making a lot of noise about it," said Santa Monica resident Jeff Austin.

"There's a growing secular movement who wants to be vocal -- we're happy about what we believe, and we believe we have an equal say, and we're going to say it, and we're going to fight for our rights and show ourselves as who we are," said Vix.

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