Cty. of Allegheny v. ACLU

492 U.S. 573, 109 S. Ct. 3086 (1989)

 

RULE:

Under the Lemon analysis, a statute or practice which touches upon religion, if it is to be permissible under the Establishment Clause, U.S. Const. amend. I, must have a secular purpose; it must neither advance nor inhibit religion in its principal or primary effect; and it must not foster an excessive entanglement with religion.

FACTS:

Petitioner city permitted a roman catholic organization to display a creche on the grand staircase of its courthouse and an 18-foot Chanukah menorah outside of the office building. The creche contained a banner which proclaimed "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" ("Glory to God in the Highest!”), together with a plaque that said, "This Display Donated by the Holy Name Society." The menorah was owned by a Jewish religious organization and was erected next to a 45-foot christmas tree. Respondents filed suit contending that the display of a creche and a Chanukah menorah in government buildings by petitioners violated the Establishment Clause, U.S. Const. amend. I and had the effect of endorsing religion.

ISSUE:

Did the display of a creche and menorah have the effect of endorsing religion?

ANSWER:

The creche had the effect of endorsing religion, but not the menorah.

CONCLUSION:

The Court examined whether the display of the creche and the menorah, in their respective particular settings, had the effect of endorsing or disapproving religious beliefs. The Court held that petitioners sent an unmistakable message that it supported and promoted the Christian praise to God that was the creche's religious message, and therefore held that the display of the creche was unconstitutional. The Court held that the display of the menorah in its particular setting was a visual symbol for a holiday with a secular dimension. The injunction against the display of the menorah was reversed.

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