The Christmas season is upon us, bringing with it the usual bustle, stress, and commercialism, and triggering once again the inevitable escalation of the culture wars. Just after the moon set on Halloween revelers, and well before Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, the airwaves were already saturated with Christmas advertising and holiday music, and in their wake the corresponding backlash from increasingly emboldened secular groups, atheist alliances, and civil-liberties organizations, all claiming a mandate to remove the religious aspects of Christmas from the public square. As with so many other cultural evolutions in the age of Obama, a stagnant economy feeds the rejection of traditional values in a nervous populace, who in the face of uncertainty are more eager than in prosperous times to sacrifice liberties in exchange for the promise of government-sponsored security. In this economic climate attitudes, and even core beliefs, change rapidly.
The California city of Santa Monica — dubbed “the City of the Christmas Story” because of the Nativity scenes that graced Palisades Park for the last 60 years — finds itself at the epicenter of the annual struggle between proponents of traditional Nativity displays and atheist groups that want them removed. Historically, the secularists have challenged Christmas displays on public grounds in the courts, marshaling well-worn arguments about the separation of church and state, while warning in ironically apocalyptic language that allowing baby Jesus His manger on the town green is tantamount to the institution of a national religion. In a devastatingly effective twist to this litigious Christmas classic — as much a fixture of the season as Rudolph or Charlie Brown’s hapless tree — comes atheist Damon Vix, who has chosen to co-opt public displays of Christmas and transform them into atheist infomercials, rather than sit back and watch them slowly suffocate at the hands of the judiciary.
Three years ago Vix applied for and received a booth alongside the Nativity scene in Palisades Park that he used to showcase a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson: “Religions are all alike — Founded on Fables and Mythologies.” Not content to counter the “propaganda” of Christmas with his corresponding declaration of reason and sanity, in 2011, Vix formed a coalition of the like-minded and besieged the city with requests for holiday space in the park, winning 18 of the 21 slots available for displays. The three booths that went to traditional groups — two for Christian displays and one for a Hanukkah display — were overwhelmed by the contrary and often sneering signs and displays that surrounded them. The applications submitted by Vix and his confreres requested space to celebrate the “Pastafarian religion” and honor its deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Having secured the lion’s share of space, the group used it to post signs depicting Santa Claus, the Devil, the Greek god Poseidon, and Jesus, proclaiming “37 million Americans know myths when they see them. What myths do you see?” The ongoing controversy finally led the city to cancel the holiday tradition altogether, prompting a return to — you guessed it — the courts, where a federal judge swiftly denied the injunction against Santa Monica sought by a Christian group. Thus ends a decades-long tradition in Palisades Park, a victory that leaves the bemused Vix satisfied — for now: “That was such a unique and blatant example of the violation of the first Amendment that I felt I had to act.... If I had another goal it would be to remove the ‘Under God’ phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance — but that’s a little too big for me to take on for right now.”
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