SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — Two opposing groups Friday gave their arguments to an appeals court in the case against the city of Santa Monica for banning the display of nativity scenes in Palisades Park.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the 15 minute arguments in Pasadena.
The controversy began in December of 2010 after the 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.
Both religious and secular groups were able to put up displays in the park, but opposing views escalated and the city council stepped in and voted to prohibit any private displays in the park overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier.
“The city’s allowance of unattended displays raised some significant difficulties in terms of the continued administration of the program, in terms of the impact on the park,” Santa Monica City Attorney Barry Rosenbaum said.
The group, Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, first sued the city in October 2012 in federal district court for violating their constitutional right of freedom of speech and religion.
“The district court dismissed our case without a trial, and we appealed,” Committee Chairman Hunter Jameson said. “It’s really an infringement of our freedom of speech and our freedom of practicing religion, really, to oust us in this way.”
“A bully pushed out a 60-year tradition in Santa Monica heralding ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to men,’ and that in legal parlance is called a hecklers veto . . . an unconstitutional abridgement of speech,” Freedom X Attorney William Becker said.
Last year, the Committee performed a live nativity scene.
A decision by the appeals court is not expected for months.