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Churches Thwart Nativity Ban By Putting Up Living Displays In Santa Monica

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(credit: CBS) Serene Branson
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SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — Churches have found a way to keep the decades-old Christmas nativity display alive in Santa Monica following a controversial ban on having the scenes in a public park.

Pastor Keith Magee of Trinity Baptist Church is just one of the organizations Monday night who found a loophole in the ban by putting on a live, temporary nativity scene. Volunteers were on hand to play the roles of Joseph and Mary, among other biblical figures.

“We want to have a positive effect here in the community, because the nativity scenes have been a positive thing for the whole community, anyway, and we want to keep it that way,” Magee said.

This year’s nativity at Palisades Park is allowed because it’s not a permanent display, which is what was banned by the city council.

Each night, a different church will organize a living nativity scene until Dec. 23.

The feud began in December 2010 after a group comprised of 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association were prevented from erecting all but three of 21 total dioramas in Palisades Park depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.

In June, the Santa Monica City Council voted to prohibit any private displays in the park overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier after atheist groups complained of religious displays on public property.

“It’s a legal principle. It’s our Constitution that, in order for the religious groups and people like me, who are not religious, to be free, we need to separate the church and the state. It’s good for all of us,” an atheist told CBS2/KCAL9 over the weekend.

Starting Sunday, the permanent nativity scenes that used to be at Palisades Park will be on display in a private space outside Clover Park.

Meanwhile, several churches have filed a lawsuit arguing the ban, and have asked a judge to allow permanent nativity displays until the case is resolved. The city is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

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