LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles federal judge on Thursday dismissed a Christian group's lawsuit to force suburban Santa Monica to reopen spaces in a city park to private displays, including Christmas Nativity scenes.
U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins issued the ruling after earlier this month denying an injunction sought by the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.
Christmastime Nativity scenes had been erected in Palisades Park for decades. Last year, atheists overwhelmed the city's auction process for display sites, winning 18 of 21 slots and triggering a bitter dispute.
The city then banned private, unattended displays at the park.
An attorney for the group says he plans to appeal the ruling.
Collins had said the city was within its constitutional right to eliminate the exemption that had allowed the Nativity at the oceanfront Palisades Park because the change affected all comers — from Christians to Jews to atheists — and provided other avenues for public religious speech.
The coalition of churches that had put on the life-sized, 14-booth Nativity display for decades argued the city banned it rather than referee a religious dispute that began three years ago when atheists first set up their message alongside the Christmas diorama.
In her ruling Thursday, Collins said the coalition has other options.