The Christmas spirit seems to have dissipated in a Santa Monica neighborhood as a feud over nativity scenes divides local residents. In the past, Palisades Park hosted 14 nativity scenes, but because of a new lottery system used this fall, atheist groups have claimed much of the space for their own non-religious displays.
One space went to a Jewish group, two went to churches, and the other 18 were awarded in the lottery to individuals for "solstice greetings."
"Our belief is that these new applicants have been working to displace and push out the nativity scenes from the park, rather than erecting a full display of their own," said Hunter Jameson, a spokesman for the churches, in an interview with the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Self-described atheist Damon Vix did not win a space, but is allied with the two who claimed the lion's share.
"Our point is that these religious displays are offensive,” Vix told NBC.
Particularly galling to the coalition of 13 churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association is that many of the spots awarded to atheists are vacant.
Committee member Pat Peterson told Santa Monica Patch that the nativity scenes were "a historical tradition that people look forward to."
Religious leaders orchestrated a united ringing of Santa Monica church bells on Sunday to protest the reduction in space for their religious dioramas.
For the past 57 years, the nativity committee has had little or no competition for the total of 21 holiday display spaces, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports.
"For 60 years, it's almost exclusively been the point of view of Christians putting up nativity scenes for a whole city block," Vix told the Santa Monica newspaper.
A deputy city attorney told the paper the government cannot differentiate between applicants for the coveted spaces, and cannot give preference to Santa Monica residents for space used for public speech.