Friday, May 01, 2015

9th Cirucit Upholds Ban on Christmas Display In Palisades Park

In Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee v. City of Santa Monica, (9th Cir., April 30, 2015), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected free speech and Establishment Clause challenges to Santa Monica's repeal of a policy that, as an exception to a general ban on unattended displays, allowed  unattended Winter Displays in the city's Palisades Park. Since 1955, during December local residents  (and later the Nativity Scenes Committee) have erected dioramas in the Park depicting the Biblical story of Christmas. A policy enacted in 2003 allocated space on a first-come-first-served basis. However beginning in 2011, atheists who opposed Christmas displays in the Park, flooded the city with requests for their own displays and the city moved to a lottery system for allocating space. Rather than continuing to deal with this, in 2012 the city repealed the exception that allowed Winter Displays, and the Nativity Scenes Committee sued. The court held that the Ordinance repealing the Winter Display exception was a narrowly tailored neutral time, place and manner regulation that serves a substantial governmental interest and leaves open ample alternative channels of communication. The court refused to extend the "heckler's veto" doctrine to this situation. Finally the court rejected challengers' claim that the repeal violated the Establishment Clause by conveying hostility toward Christianity. Thompson/ Reuters reports on the decision.