Judge Rejects Suit by Christian Group for Nativity Display

(Image Credit: Scott Head/AP Photo)

A federal judge today knocked down an attempt by a group of Christians to force the city of Santa Monica, Calif., to host their Nativity displays during the month of December.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee filed suit last month after the beachfront city pulled the plug on a 60-year tradition of holiday displays, which gave rise to the city's moniker of "The City of the Christmas Story," according to court documents. The city had been overwhelmed with applications by atheists to set up their own displays during December, so officials abolished the practice altogether.

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins ruled against the Nativity Scenes Committee, according to The Associated Press. He reject its argument that the city was violating its members' First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

William Becker, the attorney for the Christian group, told the AP he will appeal.

"The atheists won and they will always win unless we get courts to understand how the game is played and this is a game that was played very successfully and they knew it," Becker said after the hearing, according to the AP.

The change came after an outspoken atheist set up his own display next to the nativity scene.

Atheist Damon Vix hung a sign three years ago reading "Religions are all alike - founded on fables and mythologies," next to the Christmas nativity at a booth in Palisades Park, according to the suit. The other side read, "Happy Solstice."

He then wrangled fellow atheists into applying for the booth spaces at Palisades Park, leaving only two spaces for the traditional Christian nativity scenes during December 2011, according to the document.

After the holidays passed, the Santa Monica city council decided to abandon the tradition altogether, a decision the Nativity Scenes Committee hopes to reverse with the federal court decision expected today.

The group is made up of 13 area churches and the police officers' union, according to the suit.