Crime & Justice

Appeals court upholds ban on Santa Monica Nativity scene displays

A woman walks past two of the traditional displays showing the Nativity scene along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California, on Dec. 13, 2011.
A woman walks past two of the traditional displays showing the Nativity scene along Ocean Avenue at Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California, on Dec. 13, 2011.
File photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP

A federal appeals court has upheld a decision by the city of Santa Monica that banned unattended Nativity scene displays in Palisades Park.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling on Thursday that Santa Monica had several secular reasons to stop allowing certain unattended winter displays in the park. Those reasons included improving the aesthetics of the park and alleviating administrative burdens on the city.

The Ninth Circuit's ruling upheld a lower court decision.

Santa Monica's City Council voted to ban unattended winter displays from Palisades Park in 2012, prompting a lawsuit by the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

The committee said the ban violated its right to free speech and conveyed a message that the city disapproved of Christianity.

Bill Becker, the committee's attorney, said he did not plan to appeal.

"We understood when we filed this lawsuit that we were in the Ninth Circuit and that it would be difficult to win the case, but we felt that we could take a chance," Becker told KPCC.

The committee will continue to display scenes on private property, he said. 

This story has been updated.