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Austin Cline

Santa Monica Atheist Displays Outnumber Christian Displays

By December 23, 2011

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Once again, a local government opens up public spaces to be used for any message the public wants, not just Christians promoting a sectarian Christmas message, and atheists end up outnumbering Christians. This time it's Santa Monica and, as before, Christians are complaining that when the rules are fair to everyone, they can't find a way to completely dominate the discussion and geography. Boo Hoo.

Santa Monica city officials created a lottery to distribute use of 21 spots; atheists won the ability to use 18 of them and a Jewish group got one of them. For six decades Christians got to erect 14 separate displays to promote their Christian message with a nativity story while everyone else was excluded. Now Christians have to compete and be treated like everyone else and they aren't the least bit happy.

[Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee] said he intends to keep the Nativity tradition many have enjoyed since 1953 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. ...

The Rev. Keith Magee, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said the atheists have deprived a coalition of Christian faiths (Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic and others) and the community (doctors, real estate agents and the Santa Monica Police Assn. are among the sponsors) of a tradition that allowed so many to come together to celebrate a belief so important to them.

Source: LA Times

So, when Hunter Jameson and his fellow Christians dominated the public area for six decades, does that mean that he and his fellow Christians were getting rid of non-Christians and squelching their 1st Amendment rights? And he freely admits to being part of this long-running conspiracy?

No, I doubt it. I doubt that he's even stopped to consider the implications of his statement at all. It's only "squelching 1st Amendment rights" when Christians are prevented from dominating discussion; it's not "squelching 1st Amendment Rights" when non-Christians are prevented from even having a place at the table. That's going well beyond a double standard, but some Christians -- like Hunter Jameson, it seems -- lack the ability to recognize the moral implications of their own behavior.

Keith Magee is no better. The only "coming together" that he expresses concern about is Christians coming together to collectively dominate public spaces and public discussion. The only "coming together" that he expresses concern about is that which excludes non-Christians. And so atheists should feel ashamed for interfering with that? Atheists should feel bad that they are making that harder?

I don't think so...

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.

Indeed, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said December is a busy time for the organization's attorneys, who challenge the use of public spaces for religious messages.

"It's littering -- literally, littering -- these spaces," Gaylor said of such displays, which she said are a "territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season."

"That creates an atmosphere of intimidation," said Gaylor, who noted that the organization's banner was destroyed by vandals after being hung in Palisades Park. "Christians are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider."

Patrick Elliott responds above to an argument that we see an awful lot: "It's our tradition!" Could there possibly be a worse argument? If a person using that argument has thought about the issue and has any relevant knowledge, then they know that it's a worthless argument from a legal perspective -- so if they are using it, it's because they have nothing better and know that their position is wrong.

Otherwise, they must not have thought about the issue much at all and/or have no relevant knowledge about the issues involved. Frankly, I think this latter situation is probably more common. Some probably are informed and know they have no sound arguments to use, so they are just reaching for whatever is most likely to resonate emotionally with voters. Most, though, are just incredibly ignorant and don't have any idea what they are talking about.

And quite often, they are the ones holding political office.

Comments
December 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm
(1) Ron says:

Once again, a local government opens up public spaces to be used for any message the public wants,……….I don’t like it. As an atheist, or agnostic, I would gladly forfeit my space in order to deny a space for….. say, skinhead or neo~nazi groups. I can’t help it . That is how I feel.

December 25, 2011 at 10:19 pm
(2) Savvy says:

Do holiday displays get you all riled up? Honestly, I find the over-commercialization of the holiday to be quite irritating. I mean, people camp put for days to get ridiculous door-buster specials.

The Constitution doesn’t guarantee freedom from any mention of religion. The public pay taxes and the public sometimes happen to be Christians.

I really don’t see how a few nativity scenes and a Hannukah display force you to practice religion or establish anything other than religion exists. And a few empty spaces won’t stop me from practicing mine.

I would have been happy to see Kwanzaa being honored, which is a non-religious expression honoring Black history.

Sounds to me like you and they’ve got a bad case of pushing beliefs on others with a religious fervor. Yours is the new intolerance in the name of no religion.

Couldn’t you at least honor Festivus? Maybe you grinches should try a little humor.

I’m sure you appreciated having a day off. Too bad rest didn’t make you less grouchy.

December 27, 2011 at 7:24 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

Do holiday displays get you all riled up?

No. Do you often find yourself projecting your own emotions onto complete strangers?

The Constitution doesn’t guarantee freedom from any mention of religion.

No one said it does.

I really don’t see how a few nativity scenes and a Hannukah display force you to practice religion or establish anything other than religion exists.

They don’t, but if they are funded by the government or given special treatment by the government that is still a violation of the First Amendment.

Sounds to me like you and they’ve got a bad case of pushing beliefs on others with a religious fervor.

You’re the one defending special privileges for Christianity and Christian beliefs.

Yours is the new intolerance in the name of no religion.

Yeah, because an insistence on equality is really “intolerant”.

I’m sure you appreciated having a day off. Too bad rest didn’t make you less grouchy.

You’re the one whining about others being treated as equals. So who exactly is being “grouchy”?

Stop projecting and try being honest with yourself. The rest of us aren’t fooled and when you fool yourself like this you just look ridiculous.

December 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm
(4) Anon says:

I think you missed the poster’s point. It really seems like you would like to restrict the free exercise of religion and think that all public land should be completely free of religious expression. The 1st Amendment reads thus (including the back half) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

The government doesn’t “fund” the spaces for any particular church, but does ALLOW SPACE FOR free expression.

It seems like people are not understanding the difference between establishing a church to which all must ascribe, attend, and support because the state pushes it as the national church and allowing the free expression of religious beliefs.

Christianity is not a monolithic group of people nor are any other religious groups. Which Christian church would you say that a nativity establishes? What synagogue does a menorah make you go to?

We have all experienced some kind of discrimination at some point. I live in Los Angeles and there are very many different religious groups here. Just because everyone goes shopping doesn’t mean it’s a religious experience. Indoor trees are pagan.

I suppose, if your belief is in “nothing” then you would put nothing in that space.

I just wish someone had done something for Festivus -it’s for the rest of us.

December 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

I think you missed the poster’s point.

OK, what do you think the point is?

It really seems like you would like to restrict the free exercise of religion and think that all public land should be completely free of religious expression.

Yet you can’t find a single example of me expressing anything remotely like that. You’re doing nothing but expressing your own prejudices. You’re trying to debate a straw many you created in your own mind and avoiding the things I’ve actually written.

The government doesn’t “fund” the spaces for any particular church, but does ALLOW SPACE FOR free expression.

It does a lot more than merely “allow space for” free expression when it gives a privileged status to church messages. That’s why Santa Monica created the system they have – a true forum for free expression where everyone is treated equally.

So why do you have a problem with it?

It seems like people are not understanding the difference between establishing a church to which all must ascribe, attend, and support because the state pushes it as the national church and allowing the free expression of religious beliefs.

What you are not understanding is that the First Amendment covers a lot more than merely forcing people to attend a national church. The First Amendment also forbids the government from funding churches, supporting churches, promoting churches, and privileging churches.

Christianity is not a monolithic group of people nor are any other religious groups.

Irrelevant. The government isn’t allowed to promote, support, fund, or encourage Christianity generally either.

I just wish someone had done something for Festivus -it’s for the rest of us.

I wish you had bothered to address the real issues.

Just so you know, it’s not going to stop the Christians or the Jews, or the Catholics, or the Mormons from practicing their religion if they can’t have their displays.

So what? No one is trying to stop private citizens from practicing their religions and no one has suggested that they should be stopped. That’s just a figment of your ignorant, bigoted imagination.

December 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm
(6) Anon says:

Next you’ll be saying you should have to look at a cross when you are standing on a public sidewalk. It seems like you’re that extreme.

Just so you know, it’s not going to stop the Christians or the Jews, or the Catholics, or the Mormons from practicing their religion if they can’t have their displays. And you can bet that all of those Christian groups think their churches are not the same church-even if it looks the same to you.

December 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm
(7) Astrid says:

Sixty years is a long time for any group to have a monopoly on free expression.
And I can see why some Atheists and Freethinkers might see it that way.
So the Atheist group won 18 of 20 available locales in the lottery for a seasonal display. I really see no problem with this.That’s the thing about living in a free society. Sometimes other people get a chance to express themselves. Remember when we were kids and had to take turns on the swing sets ?
Christians don’t get a turn this year. They can still pray, sing, feed the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. Just like they always do every day of the year.

Agreement with the message or not is a personal choice and has nothing to do with the opportunity of free expression. It isn’t freedom unless everyone gets to enjoy the benefits.
Tradition is doing the same thing over and over. Maybe it’s time for a change.Next year it may be the Pagan’s turn, or who knows?!
In the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, one of his constituents made the trip to DC to try to get Charlie Wilson to pressure his local govt. into allowing a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. Charlie told the man there were 4 churches within several blocks of the courthouse, and they could put it on any one of the church lawns in the town.

This isn’t really all about religion. It’s also about business advertising, and an end of the year tax write off.. Reread the part from Rev. Keith Magee.

December 31, 2011 at 1:48 am
(8) Michael says:

Here are some pictures of what the Nativity scene area looked like on the Pacific Palisades in Santa Monica.
https://plus.google.com/photos/117426721368350719108/albums/5687407366165494577
I find it difficult to understand why some Christians fight so hard to keep their cheap and cheesy displays for the public to see.

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