Lynch v. Donnelly

LOCATION: Shopping District

DOCKET NO.: 82-1256
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 465 US 668 (1984)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 1983
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1984

Amato A. DeLuca - for respondents
Amato A. De Luca - on behalf of the Respondents
Rex E. Lee - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae
William F. McMahon - for petitioners
William F. Mc Mahon - on behalf of the Petitioners

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.


Did the inclusion of a nativity scene in the city's display violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Media for Lynch v. Donnelly

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 04, 1983 in Lynch v. Donnelly

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Dennis Lynch against Donnelly.

Mr. McMahon, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

William F. Mc Mahon:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the establishment clause prohibits a municipality from including a creche in a traditional and dominantly secular Christmas celebration.

The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has for over 40 years sponsored an annual Christmas celebration.

It consists of parties, Christmas carols, the lighting and decoration of public buildings, and a display situated on the grounds of a museum in the center of the commercial area of the city.

The display, which is laid out over 40,000 square feet, consists of a wishing well, colored lights, a 40-foot high lighted spruce tree, figures of Santa Claus, a live Santa Claus, and various figures of stars and bells and lights and a large Season's Greetings, 48 feet long and lighted.

Included in this display, covering approximately 14O square feet out of the total 40,000 square foot area, is a creche.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Has the creche been there for 40 years, used every year for 40 years?

Does the record show that?

William F. Mc Mahon:

Yes, Justice, but the display has not been in that location for those 40 years.

It has been in this location since 1973.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But a creche has been used for 40 years?

The record shows that?

William F. Mc Mahon:

That is correct, Justice.

The creche consists of a small stable and approximately 15 figures ranging in height from one foot to five feet.

The District Court has permanently enjoined the city from continuing its practice of including the creche in its Christmas celebration.

It did so by applying the three-part test set forth by this Court in Lemon against Kurtzman, concluding that the city's sponsorship of the creche violated each portion of that test.

The Court of Appeals, by divided vote, affirmed, agreeing with the District Court as to the first two parts of the Lemon test, but further invalidating the city's sponsorship of the creche under the strict scrutiny analysis applied by this Court in Larson against Valente.

It is the position of the city before this Court that the public recognition of the nativity scene in the American Christmas is not a promotion of religion, but really is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the American Christmas.

In order to determine whether government--

Harry A. Blackmun:

I am just curious as to one fact.

Was a stay order issued in this case, or an injunction?

William F. Mc Mahon:

--A permanent injunction was issued, yes, Justice.

Harry A. Blackmun:

And it is still in effect?

William F. Mc Mahon:

That is correct, Justice.

Harry A. Blackmun:

So that in... This concerned 1980, didn't it?

William F. Mc Mahon:

That is correct.

Harry A. Blackmun:

So that in 1981 and 1982 you had no creche?

William F. Mc Mahon:

The city has not sponsored a creche.