As the holiday season approaches, so too do the annual battles between atheists opposed to displays of religious festivity and Christians intent on upholding their traditional modes of celebration. This debate has already begun in one California town, where a judge has upheld an order banning any unattended displays in public parks.
The order was issued last year as anti-religious groups staged protests against a nativity scene in one of Santa Monica’s biggest public parks. The atheists won 18 of the city’s 21 display slots in a lottery and were able to dominate the park with their messages, angering church groups.
Pursuant to this very public clash, Santa Monica’s city council issued the order, which bans any displays regardless of content. Churches or Atheist groups may still display religious or non-religious paraphernalia on private property, but they are no longer allowed to do so on city land. The city council calls the policy ‘content neutral’ and claim it isn’t aimed at any one group.
Religious groups filed suit against the city, claiming that the policy violates their rights to freedom of speech and expression of religion. On Monday, Judge Audrey Collins refused to grant the group an injunction that would have forced the city to allow nativity scenes to continue while the case proceeds.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have announced their intention to appeal, saying that religious speech deserves the same protections as secular speech. Attorneys for the city are confident that the policy will hold firm in the face of judicial scrutiny, as it doesn’t look at the content or subject matter of the displays.
Watch for versions of this legal fight to play out around the United States this holiday season. As Atheist groups grow larger and more socially acceptable, their activist branches grow too. Conversely, state prioritization of the rights of Christian groups is shrinking as American society becomes increasingly diverse and accepting of minority groups and viewpoints.