ALLEGHENY COUNTY v. GREATER PITTSBURGH ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

(Gov't Sponsored Nativity Scenes)

 
This litigation concerns the constitutionality of two recurring holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh. The first, a creche depicting the Christian Nativity scene, was placed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse, which is the "main," "most beautiful," and "most public" part of the courthouse. The creche was donated by the Holy Name Society, a Roman Catholic group, and bore a sign to that effect. Its manager had at its crest an angel bearing a banner proclaiming "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," meaning "Glory to God in the Highest." The second of the holiday displays in question was an 18-foot Chanukah menorah or candelabrum, which was placed just outside the City-County Building next to the city's 45-foot decorated Christmas tree. At the foot of the tree was a sign bearing the mayor's name and containing text declaring the city's "salute to liberty." The menorah is owned by Chabad, a Jewish group, but is stored, erected, and removed each year by the city. Respondents, the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and seven local residents, filed suit seeking permanently to enjoin the county from displaying the creche and the city from displaying the menorah on the ground that the displays violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made applicable to state governments by the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court denied relief, relying on Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 , which held that a city's inclusion of a creche in its annual Christmas display in a private park did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court of Appeals reversed, distinguishing Lynch v. Donnelly, and holding that the creche and the menorah in the present case must be understood as an impermissible governmental endorsement of Christianity and Judaism under Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602. US Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
 

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