City of Allegheny v. ACLU Case Brief

Summary of City of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

Facts: Cnty permitted the display of a nativity scene on the staircase of the Courthouse, and Menorah outside the City-Cnty Bldg, during the holiday season. The creche was displayed w/o any secular figurines or decorations, but a sign referencing “Holy Name Society." Along side the city’s decorated X-mas tree, the city allowed an 18 foot menorah, owned by a Jewish group. However, the city stored, erected, and removed it each year.

Issue(s): Whether Govt authorized display of religious symbols as part of holiday decorations constituted an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint in violation of Est Cl?

Holding: Yes and No.

Procedure: ACLU and residents filed suit; D.Ct denied their request for permanent injunction; Ct App Reversed holding each display violated Est Cl b/c each has the impermissible effect of endorsing religion by Govt. U.S.S.Ct. Affirm in part (creche) and Reverse in part (menorah).

Rule(s): 1st Est Cl. Govt may not promote or affiliate itself w/ any religious doctrine or organiz’n, discriminate against people b/c of religious belief or non belief; nor delegate a Govt power to a religious institution; and may not involve itself too deeply in religious institution’s affairs.

Rationale: Ct’s attention increases when Govt practice has either a purpose or effect that endorses religion, which bans Govt conveying or attempting to convey a favorable religious message.

Ct will not tolerate some Govt endorsement of religion b/c any endorsement is invalid. Deter if Govt use of an object w/ a religious meaning has the effect of endorsing religion based on the message that Govt practice sends. That question turns on the context that the object appears; i.e. specific physical setting. If a religious object is displayed w/ other secular objects the setting changes the viewer’s understanding of the purpose and reduces the likelihood of a message of endorsement.

Creche: This display, w/ a sign indicating ownership rests w/ Roman Catholic Church shows that the Govt is endorsing a religious message: Cnty supports and promotes the Christian praise to God. Govt may acknowledge Nat’l holiday as a cultural event, but not as a method of endorsing a specific religious practice.

Menorah: Combination of X-mas tree, Mayor’s sign, and display of menorah sends message of secular celebrations during holiday season. This only goes to show that its display does not create a primary effect of Govt’l endorsement of religion (Prong 1). On remand 2 and 3 may be considered.

Pl’s A: (Cnty) It is sufficient to validate the display of the creche b/c the display celebrates X-mas and X-mas is a national holiday.

(J. Kennedy) traditional, historical religious official acts endorse Christianity, therefore the test should be whether the Govt action proselytize as an Est of religion.

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