CBN TEACHING SHEET
Knowing Your Rights in the Public Square
Throughout the year, and particularly during the Christmas
season, members of our communities make preparations for the celebration
of the holidays by decorating the public streets, sidewalks and
parks with a variety of cheerful and festive holiday decorations.
Many will also wish to express the religious origins of the Christmas
holiday season by erecting nativity scenes and menorahs.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects
the rights of citizens, civic groups, and churches to erect private
religious displays in parks, town squares, and public plazas;
i.e., to engage in religious speech in a "public forum."
In one of the leading First Amendment cases, the Supreme Court affirmed
the long-standing principle that a religious display, such as a nativity scene,
is private expression, and therefore protected (Pinette, 115 S. Ct. at
2446). Over the past several years all of the federal judicial circuits ruling
on this issue have upheld the rights of private citizens to erect religious holiday
displays in a public forum.
Please understand that the rulings of the United
States Supreme Court are binding upon every state. Thus, in parks, town squares,
plazas -- and even government buildings which have been opened up for public expression
-- citizens, civic groups and churches can erect private religious displays without
running afoul of Establishment Clause concerns, or violating the "separation of
church and state."
Here are answers to commonly asked questions dealing with
the important issues of freedom of speech and religion.
What is a public
The United States Supreme Court has identified three types of public
property for First Amendment expressive purposes: the traditional public forum
such as streets, sidewalks, and parks; the open or designated public forum such
as a town square, state owned facility, or community centers; and, the non-public
forum such as a high school or gymnasium not opened to public use.
the "separation of church and state" forbid religious displays on government property?
No. Some officials mistakenly believe that the Constitution mandates that no
religious activity can take place on public property -- even when private citizens
are involved. The Supreme Court, however, has repeatedly addressed this area of
confusion and has consistently ruled that the Establishment Clause does not require
a state entity to exclude private religious speech from a public forum.
other Supreme Court decisions held that private religious displays are not allowed
on government property?
No. Despite continual clear guidance from the United
States Supreme Court, some persons or special interest groups, nevertheless, attempt
to persuade public officials that they must exclude private religious speech.
These individuals or groups may attempt to persuade you by mentioning two other
Supreme Court cases: Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984), and County
of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573 (1989). Any mention
of these cases to justify prohibiting private citizens from erecting religious
holiday displays in traditional or open public forums is misleading and erroneous.
This information should help clarify the rights of private citizens to erect
religious displays in public parks and other public forums.
If you need further help, please give us a call at 1-800-759-0700
or check out the Web site of The American
Center For Law and Justice (ACLJ).
More CBN Teaching
More from the Spiritual Life Channel
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.