In a protest against the nativity scenes in Palisades Park, Damon Vix erected his own display that features quotes from the founding fathers about the importance of a seperation between church and state. (photo by Brandon Wise)

OCEAN AVE — Damon Vix isn’t a Grinch by any means. He celebrates Christmas, giving gifts to family and friends.

But when it comes to the nativity display in Palisades Park, Vix response is “bah-humbug,” or better yet, “Happy Solstice.”

The Hollywood prop maker is the man behind a display that can be found just south of the nativity scenes that features quotes from the founding fathers about the importance of the separation of church and state. A quote from President Thomas Jefferson is by far the most visible. It reads: “Religions are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”

On the back of the display there’s another sign that says: “Happy Solstice,” in recognition of the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

“I feel that religious displays on public property send a message to anyone who is not a member of that religion that you are a second-class citizen,” Vix told the Daily Press Thursday. “I question the city’s decision to allow an entire city block to be taken over for a month so that Christians can put up mannequins … . I don’t think our tax dollars should be used in this way.”

The nativity scenes are a tradition in Santa Monica, appearing annually since 1953. From the second Sunday in December through the end of the year, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, comprised of representatives from local churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, set up booths with life-sized figures depicting 14 events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.

At the outset, the nativity scenes were seen as a way to celebrate “the true meaning of Christmas,” while also serving as an attraction that could draw in shoppers and help local businesses, according to the Nativity Scenes Committee website. The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce was heavily involved in the early years. City Hall even helped erect the booths, provided electricity and underwrote lost revenue from blocking off parking meters.

That is where Vix comes in. He said for the past 20 years he has seen the nativity scenes and been bothered by them. He finally decided last year to apply for a permit from City Hall to erect his solstice display. This year he added the quotes from the founding fathers.

One of his major complaints is the alleged loss of revenue from “bagging” several parking meters in front of the nativity scenes. Vix also wants to know if City Hall is picking up the tab for electricity.

City officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. According to the Nativity Scenes Committee website, City Hall stopped covering certain costs following the passage of Proposition 13 and that no city funds are provided. News articles on the nativity scene said City Hall demands the parking meter funds be covered by the committee.

Committee members did not return phone calls seeking comment. Previous reports said the annual cost for erecting the scenes is around $18,000.

An ordinance passed by the City Council in 2003 set firm guidelines for winter displays, including creating two areas where displays could be located. The areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis and City Hall does not discriminate

“I challenge the city to review their policy,” Vix said.

This isn’t the first time someone has had an issue with the nativity scenes. In the past, atheist groups have set up tables and distributed literature. At one time the ACLU threatened to sue City Hall.

“The solstice is a more universal celebration that applies to all peoples,” Vix said. “Religions are exclusive by definition, where a solstice is universal and more appropriate for a park.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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