Lynch v. Donelly

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In Lynch v. Donelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a city government's display of a nativity scene was constitutional.

Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for the Court, observed:

"There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789 ... Examples of reference to our religious heritage are found in the statutorily prescribed national motto 'In God We Trust' (36 U.S.C. 186), which Congress and the President mandated for our currency, see (31 U.S.C. 5112(d)(1) (1982 ed.)), and in the language 'One Nation under God', as part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. That pledge is recited by many thousands of public school children--and adults--every year ... Art galleries supported by public revenues display religious paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries, predominantly inspired by one religious faith. The National Gallery in Washington, maintained with Government support, for example, has long exhibited masterpieces with religious messages, notably the Last Supper, and paintings depicting the Birth of Christ, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, among many others with explicit Christian themes and messages. The very chamber in which oral arguments on this case were heard is decorated with a notable and permanent--not seasonal--symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments. Congress has long provided chapels in the Capitol for religious worship and meditation."