Friday, April 25, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Battle over coastal Xmas display goes to LA court

Atheists Nativity Scenes

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo, a man walks past two of the traditional Nativity scenes along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif. Avowed atheist Damon Vix last year won two-thirds of the booths in the annual, city-sponsored lottery to divvy up spaces in the live-sized Nativity display. But he only put up one thing: A sign that read "Religions are all alike - founded on fables and mythologies." Vix left the rest of his allotted spaces empty, and in so doing, upended a Christmas tradition that began in Santa Monica nearly 60 years ago. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, file)

LOS ANGELES — Damon Vix didn’t have to go to court to push Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica. He just joined the festivities.

The atheist’s anti-God message alongside a life-sized nativity display in a park overlooking the beach ignited a debate that burned brighter than any Christmas candle.

Santa Monica officials snuffed the city’s holiday tradition this year rather than referee the religious rumble, prompting churches that have set up a 14-scene Christian diorama for decades to sue over freedom of speech violations. Their attorney will ask a federal judge Monday to resurrect the depiction of Jesus’ birth, while the city aims to eject the case.

“It’s a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested,” said Hunter Jameson, head of the nonprofit Santa Monica Nativity Scene Committee that is suing.

Missing from the courtroom drama will be Vix and his fellow atheists, who are not parties to the case. Their role outside court highlights a tactical shift as atheists evolve into a vocal minority eager to get their non-beliefs into the public square as never before.

National atheist groups earlier this year took out full-page newspaper ads and hundreds of TV spots in response to the Catholic bishops’ activism around women’s health care issues and are gearing up to battle for their own space alongside public Christmas displays in small towns across America this season.

“In recent years, the tactic of many in the atheist community has been, if you can’t beat them, join them,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Education Project in Washington. “If these church groups insist that these public spaces are going to be dominated by a Christian message, we’ll just get in the game – and that changes everything.”

In the past, atheists primarily fought to uphold the separation of church and state through the courts. The change underscores the conviction held by many nonbelievers that their views are gaining a foothold, especially among young adults.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study last month that found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, an increase from 15 percent in the last five years. Atheists took heart from the report, although Pew researchers stressed that the category also encompassed majorities of people who said they believed in God but had no ties with organized religion and people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.”

“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole socially, but we have muscle and we’re flexing it,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. “Ignore our numbers at your peril.”

The trouble in Santa Monica began three years ago, when Vix applied for and was granted a booth in Palisades Park alongside the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, from Mary’s visit from the Angel Gabriel to the traditional cr√®che.

Vix hung a simple sign that quoted Thomas Jefferson: “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies.” The other side read “Happy Solstice.” He repeated the display the following year but then upped the stakes significantly.

In 2011, Vix recruited 10 others to inundate the city with applications for tongue-in-cheek displays such as an homage to the “Pastafarian religion,” which would include an artistic representation of the great Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The secular coalition won 18 of 21 spaces. The two others went to the traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display.

The atheists used half their spaces, displaying signs such as one that showed pictures of Poseidon, Jesus, Santa Claus and the devil and said: “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?”

Most of the signs were vandalized and in the ensuing uproar, the city effectively ended a tradition that began in 1953 and earned Santa Monica one of its nicknames, the City of the Christmas Story.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn’t trump the Christians’ right to free speech.

“If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they’re free to do that – but they can’t interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum,” said William Becker, attorney for the committee. “Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive.”

The city doesn’t prohibit churches from caroling in the park, handing out literature or even staging a play about the birth of Jesus and churches can always set up a nativity on private land, Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner said in an email.

The decision to ban the displays also saves the city, which had administered the cumbersome lottery process used to award booths, both time and money while preserving the park’s aesthetics, she said.

For his part, Vix is surprised – and slightly amused – at the legal battle spawned by his solitary act but doesn’t plan anything further.

“That was such a unique and blatant example of the violation of the First Amendment that I felt I had to act,” said the 44-year-old set builder. “If I had another goal, it would be to remove the ‘under God’ phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance – but that’s a little too big for me to take on for right now.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Concert master gets solo during Solano Symphony shows

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
So, where is that editor?

By Susan Winlow | From Page: B1

Suisun break ground on Walmart

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
District attorney candidates field questions at forum

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Open Studios May 3-4 in Benicia

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
‘Tonight Show’ comic stops in Vallejo

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

The spy who went to Armijo High

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Cheating Daylight kicks off tour in hometown

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

Little Anthony joins line up at county fair

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

 
Notable Benicia homes, colorful gardens open for tour

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B2

Daily Republic seeks good news for column

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: A3, 5 Comments

 
Sutter’s thank-you to children gets top marks

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Suisun Marsh plan gets federal signoff

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

 
Vacaville police promote 3 from within

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Machete-attack case goes to jury

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A3

 
Tickets on sale for Denim and Diamonds fundraiser

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Spring book sales at Vacaville, Vallejo libraries

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

Children battle in Suisun – using book knowledge

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Library fundraiser ‘BrewHaha’ on tap May 3

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

 
Brown reappoints Vacaville man to post

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

Community meeting on Fairfield crime set

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: April 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: April 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Weather for Friday, April 25, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

 
.

US / World

Chicago doctor among those killed in Afghanistan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Water picture improves for some California towns

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Study links California drought to global warming

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Gunman kills 3 Americans at Kabul hospital

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Bill calls for enhanced lessons on Obama election

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
100-year-old California woman gets diploma

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

California bill attacks growing corporate wage gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Senate report criticizes former DHS watchdog

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Measles off to a fast start, as cases trend up

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Nevada rancher defends remarks, loses supporters

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Management, safety cited for radiation release

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Gaga over gorillas? 2 babies arrive at Bronx Zoo

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
Senate’s newest class speaks out on foreign policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Tiny Pacific nation sues 9 nuclear-armed powers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Everest climbing season in disarray after deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Vatican: Pope’s private calls don’t reflect policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Families of ferry’s lost confront SKorea officials

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Israel halts peace talks with Palestinians

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Ukraine moves against insurgents in the east

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Costa Rica is demanding US explain ‘Cuban Twitter’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
FDA eases into regulating e-cigarettes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

FDA OKs first-ever DNA alternative to Pap smear

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Postal workers’ unions protest Staples program

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

11 kids, driver hurt in Calif. school bus crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
.

Opinion

 
Editorial cartoons for April 25, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Some diet news is tough to digest

By Bud Stevenson | From Page: A11

 
Has the militia movement re-emerged in American life?

By Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis | From Page: A11

 
Easily swayed voters on both sides

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 3 Comments

.

Living

Community Calendar: April 25, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 25, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscopes for April 25, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

 
How can I renew my friendship with Ellie without looking desperate?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Week in preview April 25-May 1, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Review: Walker memorable in gritty ‘Mansions’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Review: ‘Quiet Ones’ is more creaky than creepy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Entertainment calendar April 25, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

.

Sports

Donaldson, Kazmir lead A’s past Astros 10-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Solano sweeps all-BVC softball postseason awards

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7

Fishing: Bass Reapers to hold Berryessa tournament

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Prep girls soccer: Vanden slips past AC for 3-2 SCAC victory

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Prep baseball: Vanden’s LaGrand tosses shutout at Bethel

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7

 
Clippers beat Warriors 98-96 for 2-1 series lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

LA Kings avoid elimination in 6-3 win over Sharks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
JC baseball: Solano’s late rally falls short in 6-5 loss to Marin

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Fairfield Expos announce schedule for 2014 season

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B8

 
Silver: Premature to say union will opt out of CBA

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Cal Poly baseball team is toast of the West Coast

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Michael Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Northwestern players to cast historic union vote

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Pineda not only pitcher in majors to try pine tar

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Pineda banned 10 games for pine tar, won’t appeal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

 
.

Business

4Runner keeps rugged charm

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1

 
Audi’s RS 7 is answer to Porsche, Mercedes

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C2

US proposes pay-for-priority Internet standards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Google, Apple settle high-tech workers’ lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

Amazon launches grocery service for Prime members

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

.

Obituaries

Robert James Carty Sr.

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Jean Sophia Ruckdeschel

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Judith Catherine Brooks

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard Of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9