Atheist Signs Displace Christian Park Messages

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Locals lose in lottery to atheist outsiders

Santa Monica’s churches and local police officers for almost six decades have blessed their community by providing a massive nativity scene utilizing 14 of the 21 vandal-proof fenced display areas in the city’s Palisades Park. Now atheists led by a non-resident, Damon Vix, have pushed the city to allot the spaces by lottery and then outbid the churches and police officers for the spaces. Eighteen spaces went to atheists in the lottery. Their displays include a “Happy Solstice” sign, a Thomas Jefferson quotation, and signage asserting that Jesus Christ, Satan, Santa, and King Neptune are mythological.

City attorney Marsha Moutrie points out, “Though the City can designate particular space . . . for winter displays and prohibit displays in other park space, it cannot favor one speaker or message over another.”1 She also writes, “Everyone has equal rights to use the streets and parks for expressive activities, irrespective of residency.”

Hunter Jameson, representing churches that normally work together to provide the nativity display, says the City policy has been manipulated by outsiders to deprive passersby of “a month long, time-honored tradition supported by 14 Santa Monica-based organizations representing thousands of local residents.”2

He says,“These new groups applying for permits aren’t even Santa Monica residents.” Jameson urges local residents to petition their City Council to rectify the situation next year by granting local preference in allotting spaces.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee is thus asking the taxpayers of the community—the people whose funds paid for the construction and maintenance of the vandal-proof display areas—to let their representatives in city government know their will regarding allocation of those spaces. If Moutrie’s interpretation of the law prevails, the opinions of the taxpayers and voters will not matter, as any outside organization whatsoever would be able to outnumber and outbid the people of the community and tell them how their public property is to be used. This may prove an interesting test case to watch, given its implications for local autonomy in the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, as Vix vies to influence public opinion by Jeffersonianisms, another Jefferson quotation, for which the context and source—the Declaration of Independence—is widely known, deserves an airing:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Though Jefferson was a deist and employed his own form of amateur textual criticism in compiling The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, he did not eliminate Christ’s references to Noah’s Flood, Satan, or His own second coming from his manuscript, nor did he remove the account of Christ’s birth—the event Vix is so opposed to publicly honoring. Jefferson had a particular abhorrence for the idea of a government-selected state religion, which many of the original states and European countries had. During his presidency, Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association that, under the Constitution, Congress should “‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”3

Many who loudly point to Jefferson when denying the constitutionality of allowing Christians rights of free expression and religious practice ignore the context of Jefferson’s statement. They often suggest he meant the people involved in government are constitutionally prohibited from following or discussing biblical principles. They also ignore his assertion in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that truth has nothing to fear from open expression and discussion of ideas. And they likewise ignore his bold declaration, echoed by all the signers of our country’s founding document, that the Creator God is the source of all our human rights.

Indeed, Scripture tells us God is the source of every good and every perfect gift (James 1:17). This truth was recognized by the Founding Fathers who understood God—man’s Creator—is the one from whom all man’s rights come—rights a just government must protect. John Quincy Adams even explained in an 1837 speech that “the birthday of the Savior of the world”—that event Vix finds offensive—is “indissolubly linked” to the birth of our nation. How? Because, he said, the birth of the United States of America is “a leading event in the progress of the Gospel.” And he added that the Declaration of Independence—which Jefferson penned—“laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”4 Thus, as Vix and his followers demand their rights even at the expense of the rights of others, perhaps they should ponder the divine source of all human rights and the biblical basis by which our Founding Fathers understood government’s role in protecting them.

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Footnotes

  1. Billy Hallowell, “Calif. Atheists Successfully Nudge Out ‘Offensive’ Nativity Display,” TheBlaze, December 9, 2011, www.theblaze.com/stories/calif-atheists-successfully-nudge-out-offensive-nativity-display/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, January 1, 1802, http://www.constitution.org/tj/sep_church_state.htm.
  4. Adams, John Quincy. 1837. An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837, pp. 5–6. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Charles Whipple.

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