A federal lawsuit has been filed over religious displays in Santa Monica, California.
In the past, the city has made 21 booths in a city park available by a lottery system. Three years ago, a man won a spot and hung a simple sign that stated “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies.” He won a spot the next year and hung the same sign. In 2011, he recruited several other friends and together the group won 18 of 21 booths. One had a display of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Another suggested religions were made up of myths, and compared Jesus to Santa, Poseidon and Satan in that respect.
Not unsurprisingly, a religious group is suing to overturn the city’s decision to end the displays.
The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn’t trump the Christians’ right to free speech.
“If they want to hold an opposing viewpoint about the celebration of Christmas, they’re free to do that — but they can’t interfere with our right to engage in religious speech in a traditional public forum,” said William Becker, attorney for the committee. “Our goal is to preserve the tradition in Santa Monica and to keep Christmas alive.”
The city doesn’t prohibit churches from caroling in the park, handing out literature or even staging a play about the birth of Jesus and churches can always set up a nativity on private land, Deputy City Attorney Jeanette Schachtner said in an email.
The city cancelled the displays in order to save the time and money needed to administer the lottery system.
I don’t blame Santa Monica for ending the system. I can see the city legal staff cringing every year as they get ready for the displays. And I’m not at all upset at Damon Vix. Everyone has a right to speak in the public square, and that’s all he’s doing. And I’m saying that as a Christian and a member of an evangelical denomination. I do find it interesting though that most of the material seems to be anti-Christian. There’s nothing speaking against Buddhism, Muslims, or Native Americans. If atheists are truly against all religion, they might broaden their activities to actually include all religions.
The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee should drop the lawsuit.
Look, if God is as great as we say He is, is His kingdom really going to be affected by something like Pastafarianism? If our God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, is the lack of displays in the Santa Monica park really going to change anything when it comes to growing the kingdom? There’s nothing in the New Testament about setting up a display in the public square. In fact, there are a couple of statements about doing things quietly.
The Kingdom is not going to grow because the Church built a flashy (or even simple) display somewhere. The Kingdom is going to grow the way it always has: through personal relationships and relational witnessing. It’s not about wearing the coolest witnessing t-shirt, or who spends more time at the church, or who gives more money. It’s about deliberately Loving people. Even the apparently unlovable. It’s about living your life the way Christ taught us to, and being ready to answer questions when someone notices us and says, “Hey, there’s something different about you. What is it?”