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Santa Monica Nativity scene moving to private land

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) -- Less than a week after a federal judge ruled Santa Monica has a right to ban religious displays on public land, a Christian group says it will stage its traditional Christmas Nativity scene on private land.

The Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/Ry12lQ ) the much-debated and litigated display of 14 life-sized figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ will open Sunday on Ocean Park Boulevard, between Clover Park and 28th Street. The scenes are scheduled for display until early January, said Hunter Jameson, chairman of the Nativity Scenes Committee.

“We are deeply grateful for the use of this new site to allow all of Santa Monica's distinctive Christmas story to continue spreading the message of joy, hope and peace found in the Christ child's birth,” he said in a statement.

The atheist group opposing the scene's display on public land praised the decision, saying the scene belongs on private land.

“This move is great,” Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the newspaper. “But it does undercut any argument they have that they don't have free expression. Obviously they do.”

The Nativity scenes were erected for nearly six decades in Palisades Park, until debates in recent years grew more heated, resulting in atheists erecting their own, sometimes satirical, displays.

City officials then banned all displays in the park, drawing a lawsuit from Nativity scene proponents.

A lawyer for the Christian group, William Becker, was critical of Monday's decision and pledged to file an appeal, saying the move to public land isn't a resolution.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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