PALISADES PARK — Fans of the nativity scenes in Palisades Park got a bit of good news to kick off their holiday season.
Their appeal of a judge’s decision to toss their lawsuit, which challenged City Hall’s ban on unattended displays in the park, will be heard in February.
The nativity scenes were ousted from Palisades Park in 2012 after City Council’s decision to prohibit the unattended winter displays. The decision came after a holiday season during which atheists flooded City Hall’s lottery, winning 18 of the 21 slots traditionally allocated for displays.
The Christmas scenes had been displayed in the park for nearly 60 years.
In 2012, an attorney representing 13 local churches filed suit against City Hall, claiming that the council erred because the ban was approved specifically to avoid controversy, effectively revoking the churches’ rights to free speech.
Later that year, a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that City Hall was within its constitutional right to ban the unattended displays because the decision impacted all groups, religious or otherwise, and provided groups with other ways to display their scenes.
The churches’ attorney filed for an appeal of the dismissal. Two years later, last week, they got word that the appeal will be heard by a three-judge panel within the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 6 in Pasadena, according Hunter Jameson, a spokesperson for the churches.
“Should we be granted favor, what would happen could take a number of forms,” Jameson said. “It could go to the district court for trial, because there’s not been a real trial, or the city could take certain moves itself.”
There was no timeline for when the courts would decide whether or not to hear the appeal.
“It is progressing,” Jameson said. “It’s been a long time.”
After the oral arguments in February, the churches will go back to waiting — there’s no timetable as to when the judges will have to make a decision this time either.
In the meantime, the churches are planning to display their nativity scenes elsewhere for the third year in a row.
In 2012, the nativity scenes were erected in front of Watts Commercial Properties on the 2700 block of Ocean Park Boulevard but last year, for the 60th anniversary of the nativity scenes, the group moved to Mt. Olive Lutheran Church at 14th and Maple streets.
The 13 scenes will return to Mt. Olive this year, Jameson said.
“We do have hopes that it will be eventually returned to the park,” he said. “I think two years is a little early to talk about a tradition but we’re very thankful to the church to be back there and it’s great to have a place where we’re able to return. It’s our home and we’re very appreciative for now.”
The displays will be up from Dec. 14 through New Years’ Day.
On Dec. 14, at 3 p.m. in Palisades Park, the coalition of churches will host an opening ceremony, including a 24-foot-long banner that will depict nativity scenes and include text narrating the story.
“We’ll have Christmas music,” Jameson said. “Attendees will be invited to sing Christmas carols and the Salvation Army is going to furnish a brass quartet.”
Displays in Palisades Park are permitted under the ordinance, so long as they’re attended. The banner and other displays, presented on Dec. 14, will be attended.