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Constitutionality of Religious Displays on Public Land

Court Decisions on Nativity Displays


Summaries and backgrounds on several court cases that have addressed whether the government can have religious displays on public grounds during the Christmas holidays. Are nativity scenes permitted? What about menorahs? Should there be secular symbols as well?

Lynch v. Donnelly (1983)
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the city of Pawtucket could continue to display a nativity scene as part of its Christmas display.

County of Allegheny v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1989)
The Supreme Court ruled that while a creche display on public property was unconstitutional, a menorah display on another piece of public property was not.

Capitol Square Review Board v. Pinette (1995)
Supreme Court decision holding that an unattended cross erected by the KKK on public grounds would not give the impression of government endorsement and, hence, is not a violation of the separation of church and state.

ACLU v. Schundler (1999)
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that a city's crèche and menorah display was unconstitutional when it did not have any secular symbols with it, but it became constitutional when enough secular symbols were added to a new, modified display.

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