SANTA MONICA, Calif., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Officials in Santa Monica, Calif., awarded 18 of 21 plots in Palisades Park to atheists seeking to counter the city's traditional Christmas Nativity display.
The plots were distributed through a lottery, and the Christian group that traditionally displays 14 scenes of the Nativity was awarded just two plots this year, leading some to accuse the atheists of "hijacking" the park, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
"A small group of out-of-town atheists is trying to hijack Santa Monica's nearly 60-year-long Christmas tradition," Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, told the Times. "Their goal is getting rid of us, and squelching our First Amendment rights," Jameson said.
Patrick Elliott, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the boundaries between church and state must be respected.
"Just because they're longstanding doesn't mean they're right," Elliott told the Times.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said the Christian scenes have been "littering" public spaces in Santa Monica, adding they are a "territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season."
"That creates an atmosphere of intimidation. Christians are the insiders, and everyone else is an outsider," Gaylor said.