Atheists often complain that they are not a popular group, that they are misrepresented and so forth. In Santa Monica they’ve managed to give a whole city a reason to hate their guts. (h/t Mark Steyn). This from the Daily Telegraph:
For more than six decades, religious groups have recreated life-size scenes depicting the birth of Jesus, alongside statues of the Virgin Mary and the three wise men, on the city’s cliff top promenade.
But this year the traditional tableau in Palisades Park was replaced with a battleground on religion.
Instead of Jesus being rocked softy in a manger, passers-by were greeted with images of Satan, Father Christmas and Jesus with the strap line: “37 million Americans know a myth when they see one… What myths do you see?”
Fifteen of the boxes were simply left empty with a security fence surrounding them.
Councillors were forced to pool requests for the spaces in a lottery this year after atheist groups objected to the traditional use of the displays.
By a quirk of fate, the atheists won 18 of the 21 available display areas. A Jewish group won the other spots. …
Bobbie Kirkhart, of Atheists United, said their use of the boxes was simply levelling the playing field.
“For many years, atheists were excluded from city-subsidised displays,” he said. “Now, finally, atheists have an equal chance. Christians who believe their god is concerned about such things might take note of the extraordinary luck the atheist lottery winners have enjoyed.”
Yes, I’m sure we all know precisely how much luck is involved in “winning” 18 out of 21 display slots. Kirkhart apparently was allocated 9 “slots” by the city.
The LA Times has more details. It seems that the “slots” were really an organised display of the nativity scene, in 14 sections, from the annunciation, the manger, the flight into Egypt, and so forth. The whole thing was put together by a united effort by local churches.
The same article features a selection of comments by various atheists:
Patrick Elliott, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said tradition is no excuse for violating the boundaries between church and state. “Just because they’re long-standing doesn’t mean they’re right,” he said.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said December is a busy time for the organization’s attorneys, who challenge the use of public spaces for religious messages.
“It’s littering — literally, littering — these spaces,” Gaylor said of such displays, which she said are a “territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season.”
“That creates an atmosphere of intimidation,” said Gaylor, who noted that the organization’s banner was destroyed by vandals after being hung in Palisades Park. “Christians are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider.”
In Santa Monica, atheist Damon Vix called national organizations seeking help because he felt marginalized by the display, and tradition alone didn’t merit saving it. Vix, a 43-year-old prop maker from Burbank, said the display “defines Santa Monica as a Christian city, and I feel very excluded by that.”
Vix, apparently, is the other one whom the city officials considered was the best possible person to award nine slots to.
The Independent also covers the story, although I have yet to see the BBC mention it. Nor have I yet seen an apology from the city of Santa Monica.
Mark Steyn comments dryly:
Perhaps Santa Monica should adopt a less-theocratic moniker and change its name to Satan Monica, as its interpretation of the separation of church and state seems to have evolved into expressions of public contempt for large numbers of the citizenry augmented by the traumatizing of their children. Boy, I can’t wait to see what those courageous atheists come up with for Ramadan.
I have a feeling that it will be a long, cold, hard winter before the city of Santa Monica listens to atheist groups ever again.