Christians have accused atheists of ruining their Christmas tradition of erecting Nativity scenes at a park near California's famous Santa Monica pier.
Agence France-Presse reported on the "unseasonably rancorous row":
The heart of the row lies in Palisades Park, where for decades local Christians have erected a series of Nativity displays along Ocean Avenue ...The problem stems from the fact that, in a lottery to decide who got how many display spaces, atheists unexpectedly won 18 out of 21, squeezing the Christians – who in previous years had 14 plots – into just two.
Atheists "objected to use of the park by churches to espouse a religious message," and so they applied for their own display spaces, the Los Angeles Times reported.
One of the atheist displays is of a poster showing King Neptune, Jesus, Santa Claus and Satan, with the saying: "37 million Americans know MYTHS when they see them."
"Happy Solstice!" said another of the atheist displays, which, like the Nativity scenes, are enclosed in chain-link fencing to prevent vandalism.
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Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told the Times that the use of public spaces for religious messages is a "territorial attempt by Christians to impose their beliefs in this season."
"It's littering — literally, littering — these spaces," Gaylor said, according to the Times.
Hunter Jameson, head of the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, told AFP that while his group has no problem with atheists expressing their views in the park, many haven't bothered to use their display spaces, with several standing empty and some simply consisting of a wooden post with a sign on top.
Jameson told the Times that the Nativity tradition has continued for nearly 60 years, and he intends to keep it from being displaced.
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