ACLU v. Schundler: Court Rules on Constitutionality of Holiday Displays

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Decided: ACLU v. Schundler - The Third Circuit Court rules that a holiday display with a menorah, a creche, and a holiday tree is unconstitutional. However, the addition of a sign indicating a secular purpose to the display makes it constitutional.

Despite agreeing that the city of Jersey City finally made their holiday display constitutional, the court's decision includes a strongly-worded condemnation of the original display:

"A crèche represents the Christian belief that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary to lead humankind on a path toward salvation and redemption. Yet Jersey City would have us believe that the symbol of the crèche has achieved such a level of secular status that it is religiously benign. We are not so persuaded.

The mere fact that a religious symbol is pervasively displayed during the holiday season does not diminish its religious significance. A crèche unambiguously represents a belief that is not universally shared by the citizens of this country. In fact, many citizens believe that Jesus may only be understood as a Hebrew prophet. For some devout observers of their respective faiths, it is heresy to ascribe a divine character or purpose to Jesus' life or death. ...

Jersey City's use of public funds to erect and maintain its display increased the "risk of making religion relevant ...to status in [Jersey City's] political community."

One important aspect of this decision is the court's rejection f the idea that it's constitutionally permissible for the government to support, endorse, or encourage religion so long as it does so with multiple religions equally:

"It remains clear that government celebration of one particular religion, or even more than one religion, can constitute government endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause... government celebration of more than one religion cannot magically transform a government endorsement of religion into a secular "celebration of diversity and pluralism."
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