UPDATE: 11:46 a.m.: U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins has formalized her ruling, which upholds for now Santa Monica's ban on private displays – including Christmas Nativity scenes – at Palisades Park.
An attorney for the Christian group says he will appeal the denial of a preliminary injunction.
UPDATE 10:44 a.m.: A Los Angeles federal judge has indicated she will deny a bid by churches to force Santa Monica to reopen spaces in a city park to private displays, including Christmas Nativity scenes.
U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins announced her intent in a tentative ruling given to attorneys in advance of a hearing Monday.
An attorney representing a group of Christian churches said he will appeal. The group contends its free-speech rights are being violated.
PREVIOUSLY: Local churches haved filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the city of Santa Monica violated their freedom of speech when it put an end to a Christmas Nativity scene at Palisades Park.
The elaborate display, which had been erected at the park for the past 60 years, was overtaken this past holiday season by a non-religious display set up by Damon Vix and other atheists. To avoid any more conflict, the city banned all private, non attended displays at the park, ending the tradition of holiday displays.
The conflict started three years ago when Vix applied for a booth at Palisades Park next to the nativity scene where he hung a quote from Thomas Jefferson that read: “Religions are all alike – founded on fables and mythologies" and "Happy Solstice."
Over the next few years Damon Vix was able to rally other atheists to apply for booths at the park, snatching up 18 of the 21 spaces which were given out via a lottery. Signs that were displayed by the group were vandalized. The city then decided to ban all private, unattended displays in the park, essentially ending the nativity scene, a tradition since 1953.
Last year, KPCC's Larry Mantle interviewed Mr. Vix about the matter and asked him if his intentions were to try and drive Christian and religious messages out of the park.
"The purpose of my displays was to try to create what is called equal protection under the law," Vix said. "I wanted to achieve a presence as large as the Christian groups."
Hunter Jameson heads the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee. He says a defeat in court would be a loss for the community.
“I think it would be a very sad day in the history of Santa Monica and a very sad commentary on the attitudes of some people,” Jameson told the Associated Press.
A court hearing is scheduled for Monday. The churches want a judge to block the city's ban on private and unattended displays in the park until the case is resolved. Santa Monica wants the court to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.