• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court, by approving a town’s Christmas season display, lessened the strict separation of church and state that had typified many of its decisions.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a Rhode Island town’s display of a nativity scene because it was accompanied by many Christmas decorations and secular, seasonal items. In the opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Warren BurgerBurger, Warren E.;Lynch v. Donnelly[Lynch v. Donnelly] held that the presence of so many nonreligious symbols minimized the extent to which this display seemed to foster or establish religion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor concurred in this case. Justices Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens dissented. Shortly, thereafter, in Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter[case]Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter[Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter] (1989), the Court found that a nativity scene by itself in a public building was a violation.Religion, establishment of;Lynch v. Donnelly[Lynch v. Donnelly]

Engel v. Vitale

Epperson v. Arkansas

Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education

Religion, establishment of

Wallace v. Jaffree

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