On Monday, a federal judge ruled against a group of Christian churches who had sued the City of Santa Monica California to reopen a park for Christmas displays. The 60 year old tradition was ended after a fight between atheists and Christians over displays last Christmas. The city took the action it thought necessary but the churches argued the city was violating its free speech rights. Like usual, the churches don’t know what freedom of speech really means.
The city shut down the six-decade tradition last year after a bitter dispute between religious groups and atheists, who overwhelmed the city’s auction process for display sites, winning most of the 21 slots.
In last year’s struggle, the secular groups got the right to use 18 stalls at Palisades Park, while two stalls went to traditional Christmas displays and one to a Hanukkah display, the Santa Monica Daily Press reported.
The atheist groups used their stalls to put up signs referring to religion as a myth or comparing Santa Claus to the devil. Most of the signs were vandalized in the ensuing uproar.
Beset by intense wrangling and even threats to city employees, officials in this California beach community of 90,000 people that borders Los Angeles decided to get out of the holiday display business altogether.
When dealing with religion in the public square, a government has two choices: have the space open to all beliefs or none at all. Since the Christians didn’t want to see any dissent and tried to bully the atheists into silence by vandalizing their signs, the city decided no one can use the park for a Christmas display.
I will note that based on the facts I personally think the city took the lame road – the coward’s way out by not defending the atheists right to be heard by prosecuting the vandals or kicking out the Christian displays. The city’s response is like an exasperated parent who punishes both their children even if they know who “did it first” or in this case the atheist displays were the only ones damaged.
Of course the churches in question played the victim card by comparing the city to Pontius Pilate and saying getting excluded from the park this Christmas was exactly the same as Mary and Joseph getting turned away at the inn. Really??
The churches in the lawsuit talked about the city caving to the “heckler’s veto” yet miss the fact that people attached to their religion tried to destroy the atheist displays.
What is clear is for many of these churches and Christians in politics, free speech means free speech for them but not for others. When dissent is allowed then Christians want to shut it down as quickly as possible.
The churches plan to appeal the ruling.