Lynch v. Donnelly Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Plaintiff, Daniel Donnelly (Plaintiff), objects to a crèche included in a Christmas display as violating the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Facts of the case

“The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, annually erected a Christmas display located in the city’s shopping district. The display included such objects as a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading “”Seasons Greetings,”” and a nativity scene. The creche had been included in the display for over 40 years. Daniel Donnelly objected to the display and took action against Dennis Lynch, the Mayor of Pawtucket.”


Whether the inclusion of a crèche in a Christmas display, erected by the city, in a park owned by a nonprofit violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?


Reversed. The inclusion of a crèche in a Christmas display is not am advancement or endorsement of religion any more than the Government recognition of Christmas itself or the inclusion of religious paintings in governmentally sponsored museums.


“On a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that notwithstanding the religious significance of the crèche, Pawtucket has not violated the Establishment Clause . According to the Court, the display of the crèche was no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the congressional and executive recognition of the origins of Christmas itself as “”Christ’s Mass,”” or the exhibition of literally hundreds of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums. The Court ruled that the city had a secular purpose (i.e., the celebration of Christmas) for including the crèche, and concluded that the city had not impermissibly advanced religion, and including the crèche had not created excessive entanglement between religion and government. The Court reversed the permanent injunction against displaying the crèche.”

  • Case Brief: 1984
  • Petitioner: Lynch
  • Respondent: Donnelly
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 465 US 668 (1984)
Argued: Oct 4, 1983
Decided: Mar 5, 1984