Ban on a Public Nativity Scene

The internet is a-buzzing: after 60 years of display, a court in Santa Monica, California has ruled that the city did not overstep when it barred, in one of its public parks, an annual traditional nativity scene, as well as any other private displays during this holiday season (read article here).

A U.S. federal judge rejected the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee’s motion to allow the religious display this year. The judge found that the city had banned the display booths for holiday-themed installations in that one specific city park as they were a drain on the city’s resources and not because it wanted to ban the religious content.

While the evolution of the dispute between the coalition of churches that put up this nativity scene and the group of atheists who slowly took up the majority of the booths in that park with their own messages makes for an interesting and amusing read, and while a question of resources was ultimately found to be the reason behind this ban, these types of situations do bring up a topic that is increasingly discussed: does freedom of expression necessarily include the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs in public? There is obviously a whole spectrum of religious beliefs that can be expressed, but does tolerance and acceptance mean that such nativity scenes should be displayed in public or rather, that such beliefs should be reserved for the private sphere? The number of news sites reporting this story seems to indicate that this is something to talk about.

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