Freedom Writer - December 1994 [ref001] What does the Supreme Court say? By Barbara Simon,
Freedom Writer - December 1994
What does the Supreme Court say?
By Barbara Simon, Esq.
The most recent case decided by the Supreme Court re: religious displays
on public property is the 1989 decision County of _Allegheny_v._American_
Civil_Liberties_Union_, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter.
In this case, there were two displays at issue. The first was a display
of a creche depicting the Christmas nativity scene, placed on the
main inside staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Above the
creche was a banner which stated "Glory to God in the Highest." The
second display was an 18-foot Chanukah menorah placed next to a Christmas
tree with a sign saluting liberty placed on the steps of the Pittsburgh
Associate Justice Blackmun wrote that the effect of the Government's
use of symbolism "depends upon its context" and that the task of the
court is to determine whether in their "particular physical settings,"
either religious display has the effect of "endorsing or disapproving
The Court held that the Establishment Clause required the overall
display to be seen as conveying a "secular recognition of different
traditions for celebrating the winter holiday season." The Court found
that because the creche along with the banner above made it abundantly
clear that it was endorsing Christian doctrine, it violated the Establishment
Clause. However, the Chanukah menorah and Christmas tree were not
found to violate the Establishment Clause because while the menorah
is a religious symbol, its message is not exclusively religious.
In sum, the Supreme Court's standard of review for religious displays
on public property is whether in their "particular physical setting"
the religious display has the effect of "endorsing or disapproving
On October 11th the Supreme Court refused to review a 9th Circuit
US Court of Appeals decision, which found that a 43-foot cross, which
rests on public lands overlooking the city of San Diego, California,
is a "preeminent symbol of Christianity" and is therefore unconstitutional
under a provision of California's constitution which forbids religious
According to an October 12th report in _The_New_York_Times_, the long-running
dispute regarding the 43-foot cross will enter a new phase. Back in
1992, as a way of circumventing the Federal district judge's ruling
to remove the cross from public land, the city arranged to sell 15
square feet of its public land to a private religious association.
The sale was deferred pending the outcome of the city's appeals. Peter
Irons, lawyer for the Society of Separationists, who brought the lawsuit,
said that his clients would be back in court challenging the sale.
Irons stated that the sale amounted to "privatization of the Constitution"
and called it a "transparent effort to evade the judge's order."
_Back to [ref002]The Grinch: eight years later_
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