A Christian protester in front of an atheist group's display. Picture: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
For nearly 60 years churches in the California beach city of Santa Monica have come together to create displays illustrating different scenes from the birth of Jesus Christ.
They have been criticised in the past for the bad wigs and false eylashes on the store window-type mannequins protraying Joseph, Mary and various angels. But they drew hundreds of visitors and until now there was little or no competition for the available spaces along Ocean Avenue.
That changed this year when more than a dozen groups competed for the 21 spots, forcing the city to create a lottery system to fairly dole out each lot. The churches got three of them, a Jewish group got one and two other groups received all of the remaining slots for "solstice greetings."
One of the atheist booths contains a Thomas Jefferson quote likening religion to fables and mythology, while another reads "HAPPY SOLSTICE" in big bold letters.Yet another contains a poster: " 37 million Americans Know MYTHS When They See Them. What do you see?"
"There's no way the city can equally represent everybody's view in this country – there's not enough real estate," says the man behind the atheist effort, Damon Vix. “For 60 years, it’s almost exclusively been the point of view of Christians putting up nativity scenes for a whole city block I'm using it as a park, as it should be used, to demonstrate my idea of what a park should be like." The city attorney, Marsha Moutrie, supports the First Amendment free speech rights. "Everyone has equal rights to use the streets and parks for expressive activities, irrespective of residency,’’ she says.
Personally, I support the right of every group to express their views and I'm delighted to see there are less bad wigs on display this year.
However, my feeling is that the atheists should be asked to smarten up their displays and give visitors and sightseers something visually interesting and pleasing to look at instead of merely posters, printed notices and signs.