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A, Allegheny County v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 16 January 2021

Allegheny County v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter,

492 U.S. 573 (1989), argued 22 Feb. 1989, decided 3 July 1989 by votes of 5 to 4 (to strike) and 6 to 3 (to uphold); Blackmun announced the judgment, O’Connor concurring in part, Brennan and Stevens concurring in part and dissenting in part, Kennedy concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part. The Supreme Court’s policy of the early 1980s favoring religious accommodation was manifest in *Lynch v. Donnelly (1984). There, against a challenge brought by the *American Civil Liberties Union, it upheld a publicly sponsored Christmas display by a 5-to-4 vote. Applying the three-part “test” enunciated in *Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Court held that in the context of a larger display—which included a Santa, reindeers, and talking wishing wells—a crèche had a secular purpose, did not have a primary effect advancing or inhibiting religion, and did not excessively entangle church and state (see lemon test). In Allegheny, the Court refused to extend Lynch to approve a seasonal display that focused predominantly on religious symbols.

Justice Harry *Blackmun announced the judgment of the Court in an opinion joined only by Justice Sandra Day *O’Connor. He held that the (p. 33) context contemplated by Lynch was the display itself, not that of the general holiday season. Thus, a crèche—unadorned by other, more secular objects—could not constitutionally be placed in the public display of a country courthouse. A menorah, however, could occupy a similar setting, so long as it was in a context—surrounded by secular symbols—that emphasized the diversity of the holiday. Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens would have struck both displays; Rehnquist, White, Scalia, and Kennedy would have upheld them.

See also religion.

Joseph F. Kobylka