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by Dave Kong
California State Director

On Sunday, December 5, twenty atheists from San Jose and the Bay Area demonstrated in front of thousands attending San Jose’s annual holiday parade. Standing in front on the nativity scene in Plaza de Cesar Chavez, the protesters objected to its presence on public property and its support and promotion by the city of San Jose.

The nativity is part of Christmastown, an elaborate display owned by the nonprofit group Christmas in the Park and erected every year in the plaza. In 1994, the organization moved the nativity after receiving complaints, but returned the display the following year. The original display has since been replaced with a larger, more elaborate version.

While Christmas in the Park is a nonprofit organization, it receives a substantial portion of its funding from the publicly funded Convention and Visitors Bureau. Last year, American Atheists objected to the city about its support of the display. After discussions with city officials stalled, we staged our first demonstration. This year, in order to attract more attention and educate the greatest number of people, we purposely chose the day of the annual parade.

We attracted few supporters from the crowd, although several parade participants expressed their sympathy, including a famous local chef. One woman, who after seeing our signs warned her children that “Jesus is number one,” was especially hostile. During the parade, she pushed protester John Messina, who fell into her daughter. The woman then summoned a policeman and tried to have John arrested for assaulting her daughter, but the officer was reasonable and just told John to move away from her.

TV cameras typically pan past the nativity as the parade passes, but this year they strategically avoided our location. However, demonstrators were clearly visible to the mayor and councilmembers as they passed by. Most significantly, we caught the attention of the chairman of the Christmas in the Park board. She introduced herself to us, and to some degree, was sympathetic. While nothing was resolved, the lines of communication were opened and we agreed to discuss the issue at a later date.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the protest. It takes a significant number of demonstrators to gain respect and recognition, and your participation was vital to our success.

Atheists gather early in the morning on the snowy meadows. Well, the snow’s fake, but so’s the nativity.

The woman in the red jacket is JoAnn Cymanski, daughter of the founders of the Christmas in the Park displays. She is currently the chairperson of the Christmas In The Park board.

John Messina started protesting this display years ago by himself. This year he was joined by many state/church separationists proudly carrying American Atheists signs.

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