The city council of Santa Monica, Calif., has voted to halt unattended, private displays in a public park after a fight last year between atheists and Christians who had erected Nativity scenes for decades.

The Tuesday (June 12) vote came after the city first attempted to end holiday disputes by creating a lottery system in 2011. That resulted in atheists receiving all but three of the allotted 21 spaces for displays. Christians, who had previously used 14 spots, received two, and an Orthodox Jew was given the other.

“The city lacked the will to come up with a creative solution to the problem of accommodating the anti-religion agitators and caved in to their demands to remove a universally cherished symbol of the Christmas season from its traditional place in Palisades Park,” said William J. Becker Jr., a lawyer who represented the group seeking to maintain Nativity scenes in the park.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, hailed the decision, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“We want to congratulate the local freethinkers who played the religious game and outsmarted the churches,” she said.

Council members, in some cases reluctantly, decided displays should be on private property in the future, the newspaper reported.

“You don’t need a crystal ball or the Holy Spirit to know where this will take us,” said Councilman Terry O’Day. He imagined a “nightmare scenario” with a creche erected by one group and another placing “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre version next to it.”

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