Judge Rules Holiday Display with Secular and Religious Contributions Constitutional

It is constitutional for the Cranston City Hall to have private holiday displays alongside religious displays on its front lawn, ruled a federal judge in Rhode Island on Monday.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties filed a case in the US. District Court for the District of Rhode Island arguing that the holiday displays on the front law the Cranston City Hall violated the “separation of church and state.” The seasonal displays, which were placed at the invitation of city’s major, Stephen Laffey, included a menorah, a Nativity scene and plastic pink flamingos in Santa hats.

The city posted disclaimers stating, “The public displays are strictly from private citizens or groups. They in no way represent an official view of the City of Cranston, nor are they endorsed by the city.”

U.S. District Judge William Smith rejected the argument that the holiday displays were unconstitutional.

"Nothing in these public statements or in the actual implementation of the policy reveals or even remotely supports and inference that a religious purpose was behind the creation of the limited public forum," the judge wrote in the opinion.

However, in his decision, Smith called for an objective criteria for allowing the public to set up the holiday displays since the city’s policy currently allows the mayor to approve or deny displays.

Laffey said he will rewrite the city's policy based on the judge's decision, and hopes to erect a new display outside City Hall this year.

Alliance Defense Fund-allied attorney Tom Marcelle, based in Albany, N.Y., represented the city of Cranston in the suit, Grace C. Osediacz v. City of Cranston.

“The court ruled consistently with the law,” said Gary McCaleb, Senior Counsel of Alliance Defense Fund.

“Time after time the courts have ruled such displays to be perfectly constitutional,” he said.

“The ACLU long ago decided it wanted to be Uncle Scrooge and expend its energies saying ‘bah humbug’ to public Christmas displays, but they are out of touch with the 96 percent of Americans that celebrate Christmas,” concluded McCaleb.

ADF, America’s largest legal alliance defending religious liberty through strategy, training, funding, and litigation, has also announced its “Christmas Project,” featuring more than 700 trained attorneys, ready to combat continuing efforts to censor Christmas.