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Neighborhood Church Will Host Santa Monica’s 60th Annual Nativity Scene Display

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 12, 2013 -- Hoping to carry on a 60-year tradition, Santa Monica’s Mt. Olive Lutheran Church has agreed to host a dozen life-sized figures representing the Christmas story on its property starting Sunday.

The Church’s front lawn will be the second new home for the displays since the City prohibited groups from displaying them in Palisades Park -- their home for more than five decades -- in June 2012 after several atheist groups protested the practice.

“It’s our Christian mission to tell about the story of Jesus Christ,” said Church Council President Maurice Stephenson. “We see this as a spiritual experience for people.”

Until January 2, visitors can see 13 displays “depicting events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ” at 14th Street and Ocean Park Boulevard, said the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, an organization of several churches and community groups dedicated to preserving the displays.

It remains unclear, however, if the scenes, which can no longer be displayed on public land, have found a permanent home.

“We at Mt. Olive are hoping that this is such a success that we can do this every year,” Stephenson said.

Last year, proponents moved the displays to a narrow strip of privately-owned grass along Ocean Park Boulevard, just east of Clover Park.

“The Nativity Scenes Committee is deeply grateful to the people of Mount Olive Lutheran Church… for providing a home for the Nativity Scenes for this milestone display,” Committee officials said.

While for 57 years, the Nativity displays were a mainstay holiday tradition along Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, they were nudged out in 2011 when several atheist groups applied for displays in the same park.

Since the City could not legally pick and choose displays based on their content, Santa Monica held a lottery to mete out the 21 lots in Palisades Park to applicants, including Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, the Santa Monica Police Officers’ Association and Santa Monica’s Chabad, which used to display a large menorah.

In 2011, 18 of those slots went to atheist groups that either displayed anti-religious statements or left the display spaces empty to protest what they considered the City’s tacit endorsement of religious beliefs.

In response, the City decided it was time to change its policy. While Santa Monica has a general ban on unattended displays in public parks, officials had made an exemption around winter time for holiday displays.

After a contentious Council meeting, the Council voted 5 to 0 to apply the City’s general ban on unattended displays to include the winter displays.

To pay homage to the Nativity displays' old home, the Committee will hold an opening ceremony for the displays at Palisades Park on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Along with Christmas music from area choral groups, the ceremony will feature the unfurling of a large new scriptural banner telling the story of Christmas,” Committee officials said.

“The banner will be displayed periodically during the Christmas season at Palisades Park,” they said.

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