Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Daniel Donnelly (Plaintiff), objects to a crèche included in a Christmas display as violating the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Displays which celebrate the Christmas season without favoring one religion over another are generally upheld. The government cannot permit the type of display, which would endorse one religion over another because Establishment Clause of the Constitution would be violated.
Issue. Whether the inclusion of a crèche in a Christmas display, erected by the city, in a park owned by a nonprofit violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?
Held. Reversed. The inclusion of a crèche in a Christmas display is not am advancement or endorsement of religion any more than the Government recognition of Christmas itself or the inclusion of religious paintings in governmentally sponsored museums.
Dissent. The inclusion of a distinctively religious symbol like the crèche demonstrates a sectarian purpose other than to gender the good will associated with the Christmas season. The primary effect of the inclusion of the crèche is to place a governmental approval on a religious belief exemplified by the crèche. The city is not merely using the crèche as a tradition holiday symbol, thereby purging the crèche of its religious content and conferring only an incidental and direct benefit upon religion.
Concurrence. The central issue in this case is whether the city has endorsed Christianity by its display of the crèche. To answer that question the Supreme Court needs to look at what the city intended to communicate by the inclusion of the crèche and what message was actually conveyed. The purpose and effect prongs of the Lemon test represent these two aspects of the meanings of the City’s actions.
Discussion. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the government from endorsing one religion over another. The Supreme Court often relies on the Lemon test to inquire into whether the challenged law or conduct has a secular purpose, whether its principal or primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion and whether it creates an excessive entanglement of government with religion.