CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to decide whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits a municipality
Each year, in cooperation with the downtown retail merchants' association, the city of Pawtucket, R. I., erects a Christmas display as part of its observance of the Christmas holiday season. The display is situated in a park owned by a nonprofit organization and located in the heart of the shopping district. The display is essentially like those to be found in hundreds of towns or cities across the Nation — often on public grounds — during the Christmas season. The Pawtucket display comprises many of the figures and decorations traditionally associated with Christmas, including, among other things, a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cutout figures representing such characters as a clown, an elephant, and a teddy bear, hundreds of colored lights, a large banner that reads "SEASONS GREETINGS," and the creche at issue here. All components of this display are owned by the city.
The creche, which has been included in the display for 40 or more years, consists of the traditional figures, including the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, kings, and animals, all ranging in height from 5" to 5'. In 1973, when the present creche was acquired, it cost the city $1,365; it now is valued at $200. The erection and dismantling of the creche costs the city about $20 per year; nominal expenses are incurred in lighting the creche. No money has been expended on its maintenance for the past 10 years.
Respondents, Pawtucket residents and individual members of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the affiliate itself, brought this action in the United States District Court for Rhode Island, challenging the city's inclusion of the creche in the annual display. The District Court held that the city's inclusion of the creche in the display violates the Establishment Clause, 525 F.Supp. 1150, 1178 (1981), which is binding on the states through the
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. 691 F.2d 1029 (1982). We granted certiorari, 460 U.S. 1080 (1983), and we reverse.
This Court has explained that the purpose of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment is
At the same time, however, the Court has recognized that
In every Establishment Clause case, we must reconcile the inescapable tension between the objective of preventing unnecessary intrusion of either the church or the state upon the other, and the reality that, as the Court has so often noted, total separation of the two is not possible.
No significant segment of our society and no institution within it can exist in a vacuum or in total or absolute isolation from all the other parts, much less from government. "It has never been thought either possible or desirable to enforce a regime of total separation . . . ." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 760 (1973). Nor does the Constitution require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any. See, e. g., Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 314, 315 (1952); Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 211 (1948). Anything less would require the "callous indifference" we have said was never intended by the Establishment Clause. Zorach, supra, at 314. Indeed, we have observed, such hostility would bring us into "war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment's guaranty of the free exercise of religion." McCollum, supra, at 211-212.
The Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause has comported with what history reveals was the contemporaneous understanding of its guarantees. A significant example
The interpretation of the Establishment Clause by Congress in 1789 takes on special significance in light of the Court's emphasis that the First Congress
It is clear that neither the 17 draftsmen of the Constitution who were Members of the First Congress, nor the Congress of 1789, saw any establishment problem in the employment of congressional Chaplains to offer daily prayers in the Congress, a practice that has continued for nearly two centuries. It would be difficult to identify a more striking example of the accommodation of religious belief intended by the Framers.
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. Seldom in our opinions was this more affirmatively expressed than in Justice Douglas' opinion for the Court validating a program allowing release of
See also Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 213 (1963).
Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and contemporary leaders. Beginning in the early colonial period long before Independence, a day of Thanksgiving was celebrated as a religious holiday to give thanks for the bounties of Nature as gifts from God. President Washington and his successors proclaimed Thanksgiving, with all its religious overtones, a day of national celebration
Other 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
There are countless other illustrations of the Government's acknowledgment of our religious heritage and governmental sponsorship of graphic manifestations of that heritage. Congress has directed the President to proclaim a National Day of Prayer each year "on which [day] the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals." 36 U. S. C. § 169h. Our Presidents have repeatedly issued such Proclamations.
This history may help explain why the Court consistently has declined to take a rigid, absolutist view of the Establishment Clause. We have refused "to construe the Religion Clauses with a literalness that would undermine the ultimate constitutional objective as illuminated by history." Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 664, 671 (1970) (emphasis added). In our modern, complex society, whose traditions and constitutional underpinnings rest on and encourage diversity and pluralism in all areas, an absolutist approach in applying the Establishment Clause is simplistic and has been uniformly rejected by the Court.
Rather than mechanically invalidating all governmental conduct or statutes that confer benefits or give special recognition to religion in general or to one faith — as an absolutist approach would dictate — the Court has scrutinized challenged legislation or official conduct to determine whether, in reality, it establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so. See Walz, supra, at 669. Joseph Story wrote a century and a half ago:
In each case, the inquiry calls for line-drawing; no fixed, per se rule can be framed. The Establishment Clause like the Due Process Clauses is not a precise, detailed provision in a legal code capable of ready application. The purpose of the Establishment Clause "was to state an objective, not to write a statute." Walz, supra, at 668. The line between permissible relationships and those barred by the Clause can no
In the line-drawing process we have often found it useful to inquire whether the challenged law or conduct has a secular purpose, whether its principal or primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion, and whether it creates an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon, supra. But, we have repeatedly emphasized our unwillingness to be confined to any single test or criterion in this sensitive area. See, e. g., Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 677-678 (1971); Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 773. In two cases, the Court did not even apply the Lemon "test." We did not, for example, consider that analysis relevant in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983). Nor did we find Lemon useful in Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982), where there was substantial evidence of overt discrimination against a particular church.
In this case, the focus of our inquiry must be on the creche in the context of the Christmas season. See, e. g., Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) (per curiam); Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). In Stone, for example, we invalidated a state statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments on public classroom walls. But the Court carefully pointed out that the Commandments were posted purely as a religious admonition, not "integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like." 449 U. S., at 42. Similarly, in Abington, although the Court struck down the practices in two States requiring daily Bible readings in public schools, it specifically noted that nothing in the Court's holding was intended to "indicat[e] that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently
The Court has invalidated legislation or governmental action on the ground that a secular purpose was lacking, but only when it has concluded there was no question that the statute or activity was motivated wholly by religious considerations. See, e. g., Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 107-109 (1968); Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 223-224; Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 424-425 (1962). Even where the benefits to religion were substantial, as in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947); Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236 (1968); Walz, supra; and Tilton, supra, we saw a secular purpose and no conflict with the Establishment Clause. Cf. Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982).
The District Court inferred from the religious nature of the creche that the city has no secular purpose for the display. In so doing, it rejected the city's claim that its reasons for including the creche are essentially the same as its reasons for sponsoring the display as a whole. The District Court plainly erred by focusing almost exclusively on the creche. When viewed in the proper context of the Christmas Holiday season, it is apparent that, on this record, there is insufficient evidence to establish that the inclusion of the creche is a purposeful or surreptitious effort to express some kind of subtle governmental advocacy of a particular religious message. In a pluralistic society a variety of motives and purposes are implicated. The city, like the Congresses and Presidents, however, has principally taken note of a significant historical religious event long celebrated in the Western World. The creche in the display depicts the historical origins of this traditional event long recognized as a National Holiday. See Allen v. Hickel, 138 U. S. App. D. C. 31, 424 F.2d 944
The narrow question is whether there is a secular purpose for Pawtucket's display of the creche. The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday and to depict the origins of that Holiday. These are legitimate secular purposes.
The District Court found that the primary effect of including the creche is to confer a substantial and impermissible benefit on religion in general and on the Christian faith in particular. Comparisons of the relative benefits to religion of different forms of governmental support are elusive and difficult to make. But to conclude that the primary effect of including the creche is to advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause would require that we view it as more beneficial to and more an endorsement of religion, for example, than expenditure of large sums of public money for textbooks supplied throughout the country to students attending church-sponsored schools, Board of Education v. Allen, supra;
We are unable to discern a greater aid to religion deriving from inclusion of the creche than from these benefits and endorsements previously held not violative of the Establishment Clause. What was said about the legislative prayers in Marsh, supra, at 792, and implied about the Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan is true of the city's inclusion of the creche: its "reason or effect merely happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some . . . religions." See McGowan, supra, at 442.
This case differs significantly from Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., supra, and McCollum, where religion was substantially
The dissent asserts some observers may perceive that the city has aligned itself with the Christian faith by including a Christian symbol in its display and that this serves to advance religion. We can assume, arguendo, that the display advances religion in a sense; but our precedents plainly contemplate that on occasion some advancement of religion will result from governmental action. The Court has made it abundantly clear, however, that "not every law that confers an `indirect,' `remote,' or `incidental' benefit upon [religion] is, for that reason alone, constitutionally invalid." Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 771; see also Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 273 (1981). Here, whatever benefit there is to one faith or religion or to all religions, is indirect, remote, and incidental; display of the creche is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the Congressional and Executive recognition of the origins of the Holiday itself as "Christ's Mass," or the exhibition of literally hundreds of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums.
The District Court found that there had been no administrative entanglement between religion and state resulting from the city's ownership and use of the creche. 525 F. Supp., at 1179. But it went on to hold that some political divisiveness was engendered by this litigation. Coupled with its finding of an impermissible sectarian purpose and effect, this persuaded the court that there was "excessive entanglement." The Court of Appeals expressly declined to
Entanglement is a question of kind and degree. In this case, however, there is no reason to disturb the District Court's finding on the absence of administrative entanglement. There is no evidence of contact with church authorities concerning the content or design of the exhibit prior to or since Pawtucket's purchase of the creche. No expenditures for maintenance of the creche have been necessary; and since the city owns the creche, now valued at $200, the tangible material it contributes is de minimis. In many respects the display requires far less ongoing, day-to-day interaction between church and state than religious paintings in public galleries. There is nothing here, of course, like the "comprehensive, discriminating, and continuing state surveillance" or the "enduring entanglement" present in Lemon, 403 U. S., at 619-622.
The Court of Appeals correctly observed that this Court has not held that political divisiveness alone can serve to invalidate otherwise permissible conduct. And we decline to so hold today. This case does not involve a direct subsidy to church-sponsored schools or colleges, or other religious institutions, and hence no inquiry into potential political divisiveness is even called for, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 403-404, n. 11 (1983). In any event, apart from this litigation there is no evidence of political friction or divisiveness over the creche in the 40-year history of Pawtucket's Christmas celebration. The District Court stated that the inclusion of the creche for the 40-years has been "marked by no apparent dissension" and that the display has had a "calm history." 525 F. Supp., at 1179. Curiously, it went on to hold that the political divisiveness engendered by this lawsuit was evidence of excessive entanglement. A litigant cannot, by the very act of commencing a lawsuit, however, create the appearance
We are satisfied that the city has a secular purpose for including the creche, that the city has not impermissibly advanced religion, and that including the creche does not create excessive entanglement between religion and government.
JUSTICE BRENNAN describes the creche as a "re-creation of an event that lies at the heart of Christian faith," post, at 711. The creche, like a painting, is passive; admittedly it is a reminder of the origins of Christmas. Even the traditional, purely secular displays extant at Christmas, with or without a creche, would inevitably recall the religious nature of the Holiday. The display engenders a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season. The creche may well have special meaning to those whose faith includes the celebration of religious Masses, but none who sense the origins of the Christmas celebration would fail to be aware of its religious implications. That the display brings people into the central city, and serves commercial interests and benefits merchants and their employees, does not, as the dissent points out, determine the character of the display. That a prayer invoking Divine guidance in Congress is preceded and followed by debate and partisan conflict over taxes, budgets, national defense, and myriad mundane subjects, for example, has never been thought to demean or taint the sacredness of the invocation.
Of course the creche is identified with one religious faith but no more so than the examples we have set out from prior cases in which we found no conflict with the Establishment
The Court has acknowledged that the "fears and political problems" that gave rise to the Religion Clauses in the 18th century are of far less concern today. Everson, 330 U. S., at 8. We are unable to perceive the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Rome, or other powerful religious leaders behind every public acknowledgment of the religious heritage long officially recognized by the three constitutional branches of government. Any notion that these symbols pose a real danger of establishment of a state church is farfetched indeed.
That this Court has been alert to the constitutionally expressed opposition to the establishment of religion is shown in numerous holdings striking down statutes or programs as violative of the Establishment Clause. See, e. g., Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968); Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra; Levitt v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty, 413 U.S. 472 (1973); Committee
We hold that, notwithstanding the religious significance of the creche, the city of Pawtucket has not violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
It is so ordered.
I concur in the opinion of the Court. I write separately to suggest a clarification of our Establishment Clause doctrine. The suggested approach leads to the same result in this case as that taken by the Court, and the Court's opinion, as I read it, is consistent with my analysis.
The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive
Our prior cases have used the three-part test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613 (1971), as a guide to detecting these two forms of unconstitutional government action.
In this case, as even the District Court found, there is no institutional entanglement. Nevertheless, the respondents contend that the political divisiveness caused by Pawtucket's display of its creche violates the excessive-entanglement prong of the Lemon test. The Court's opinion follows the suggestion in Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 403-404, n. 11 (1983), and concludes that "no inquiry into potential political divisiveness is even called for" in this case. Ante, at 684. In my view, political divisiveness along religious lines should not be an independent test of constitutionality.
Although several of our cases have discussed political divisiveness under the entanglement prong of Lemon, see, e. g., Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 796 (1973); Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 623, we have never relied on divisiveness as an independent ground for holding a government practice unconstitutional. Guessing the potential for political divisiveness inherent in a government practice is simply too speculative an enterprise, in part because the existence of the litigation, as this case illustrates, itself may affect the political response to the government practice. Political divisiveness is admittedly an evil addressed by the Establishment Clause. Its existence may be evidence that institutional entanglement is excessive or that a government practice is perceived as an endorsement of religion. But the constitutional inquiry should focus ultimately on the character of the government activity that might cause such divisiveness, not on the divisiveness itself. The entanglement prong of the Lemon test is properly limited to institutional entanglement.
The central issue in this case is whether Pawtucket has endorsed Christianity by its display of the creche. To answer that question, we must examine both what Pawtucket intended to communicate in displaying the creche and what message the city's display actually conveyed. The purpose and effect prongs of the Lemon test represent these two aspects of the meaning of the city's action.
The meaning of a statement to its audience depends both on the intention of the speaker and on the "objective" meaning of the statement in the community. Some listeners need not rely solely on the words themselves in discerning the speaker's intent: they can judge the intent by, for example, examining the context of the statement or asking questions of the speaker. Other listeners do not have or will not seek access to such evidence of intent. They will rely instead on the words themselves; for them the message actually conveyed may be something not actually intended. If the audience is large, as it always is when government "speaks" by word or deed, some portion of the audience will inevitably receive a message determined by the "objective" content of the statement, and some portion will inevitably receive the intended message. Examination of both the subjective and the objective components of the message communicated by a government action is therefore necessary to determine whether the action carries a forbidden meaning.
The purpose prong of the Lemon test asks whether government's actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion. The effect prong asks whether, irrespective of government's actual purpose, the practice under review in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval. An affirmative answer to either question should render the challenged practice invalid.
The purpose prong of the Lemon test requires that a government activity have a secular purpose. That requirement
Applying that formulation to this case, I would find that Pawtucket did not intend to convey any message of endorsement of Christianity or disapproval of non-Christian religions. The evident purpose of including the creche in the larger display was not promotion of the religious content of the creche but celebration of the public holiday through its traditional symbols. Celebration of public holidays, which have cultural significance even if they also have religious aspects, is a legitimate secular purpose.
The District Court's finding that the display of the creche had no secular purpose was based on erroneous reasoning. The District Court believed that it should ascertain the city's purpose in displaying the creche separate and apart from the general purpose in setting up the display. It also found that, because the tradition-celebrating purpose was suspect in the court's eyes, the city's use of an unarguably religious symbol "raises an inference" of intent to endorse. When viewed in light of correct legal principles, the District Court's finding of unlawful purpose was clearly erroneous.
Focusing on the evil of government endorsement or disapproval of religion makes clear that the effect prong of the Lemon test is properly interpreted not to require invalidation of a government practice merely because it in fact causes,
Pawtucket's display of its creche, I believe, does not communicate a message that the government intends to endorse the Christian beliefs represented by the creche. Although the religious and indeed sectarian significance of the creche, as the District Court found, is not neutralized by the setting, the overall holiday setting changes what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display — as a typical museum setting, though not neutralizing the religious content of a religious painting, negates any message of endorsement of that content. The display celebrates a public holiday, and no one contends that declaration of that holiday is understood to be an endorsement of religion. The holiday itself has very strong secular components and traditions. Government celebration of the holiday, which is extremely common, generally is not understood to endorse the religious content of the holiday, just as government celebration of Thanksgiving is not so understood. The creche is a traditional symbol of the holiday that is very commonly displayed along with purely secular symbols, as it was in Pawtucket.
These features combine to make the government's display of the creche in this particular physical setting no more an endorsement of religion than such governmental "acknowledgements"
The District Court's subsidiary findings on the effect test are consistent with this conclusion. The court found as facts that the creche has a religious content, that it would not be seen as an insignificant part of the display, that its religious content is not neutralized by the setting, that the display is celebratory and not instructional, and that the city did not seek to counteract any possible religious message. These findings do not imply that the creche communicates government approval of Christianity. The District Court also found, however, that the government was understood to place its imprimatur on the religious content of the creche. But whether a government activity communicates endorsement of religion is not a question of simple historical fact.
Every government practice must be judged in its unique circumstances to determine whether it constitutes an endorsement or disapproval of religion. In making that determination, courts must keep in mind both the fundamental place held by the Establishment Clause in our constitutional scheme and the myriad, subtle ways in which Establishment Clause values can be eroded. Government practices that purport to celebrate or acknowledge events with religious significance must be subjected to careful judicial scrutiny.
The city of Pawtucket is alleged to have violated the Establishment Clause by endorsing the Christian beliefs represented by the creche included in its Christmas display. Giving the challenged practice the careful scrutiny it deserves, I cannot say that the particular creche display at issue in this case was intended to endorse or had the effect of endorsing Christianity. I agree with the Court that the judgment below must be reversed.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, dissenting.
The principles announced in the compact phrases of the Religion Clauses have, as the Court today reminds us, ante, at 678-679, proved difficult to apply. Faced with that uncertainty, the Court properly looks for guidance to the settled test announced in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), for assessing whether a challenged governmental practice involves an impermissible step toward the establishment of religion. Ante, at 679. Applying that test to this case, the
Last Term, I expressed the hope that the Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), would prove to be only a single, aberrant departure from our settled method
As we have sought to meet new problems arising under the Establishment Clause, our decisions, with few exceptions, have demanded that a challenged governmental practice satisfy the following criteria:
Applying the three-part test to Pawtucket's creche, I am persuaded that the city's inclusion of the creche in its Christmas display simply does not reflect a "clearly secular . . . purpose." Nyquist, supra, at 773. Unlike the typical case in which the record reveals some contemporaneous expression of a clear purpose to advance religion, see, e. g., Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, at 107-109; Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 423, or, conversely, a clear secular purpose, see, e. g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 613; Wolman v. Walter,
Despite these assertions, two compelling aspects of this case indicate that our generally prudent "reluctance to attribute unconstitutional motives" to a governmental body, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 394 (1983), should be overcome. First, as was true in Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116, 123-124 (1982), all of Pawtucket's "valid secular objectives can be readily accomplished by other means."
The "primary effect" of including a nativity scene in the city's display is, as the District Court found, to place the government's imprimatur of approval on the particular religious beliefs exemplified by the creche. Those who believe in the message of the nativity receive the unique and exclusive benefit of public recognition and approval of their views. For many, the city's decision to include the creche as part of its extensive and costly efforts to celebrate Christmas can only mean that the prestige of the government has been conferred on the beliefs associated with the creche, thereby providing "a significant symbolic benefit to religion . . . ." Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., supra, at 125-126. The effect on minority religious groups, as well as on those who may reject all religion, is to convey the message that their views are not similarly worthy of public recognition nor entitled to public support.
Finally, it is evident that Pawtucket's inclusion of a creche as part of its annual Christmas display does pose a significant threat of fostering "excessive entanglement." As the Court notes, ante, at 683, the District Court found no administrative entanglement in this case, primarily because the city had been able to administer the annual display without extensive consultation with religious officials. See 525 F. Supp., at 1179. Of course, there is no reason to disturb that finding, but it is worth noting that after today's decision, administrative entanglements may well develop. Jews and other non-Christian groups, prompted perhaps by the Mayor's remark that he will include a Menorah in future displays,
In sum, considering the District Court's careful findings of fact under the three-part analysis called for by our prior cases, I have no difficulty concluding that Pawtucket's display of the creche is unconstitutional.
The Court advances two principal arguments to support its conclusion that the Pawtucket creche satisfies the Lemon test. Neither is persuasive.
First. The Court, by focusing on the holiday "context" in which the nativity scene appeared, seeks to explain away the clear religious import of the creche and the findings of the District Court that most observers understood the creche as both a symbol of Christian beliefs and a symbol of the city's support for those beliefs. See ante, at 679-684; see also ante, at 694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). Thus, although the Court concedes that the city's inclusion of the nativity scene plainly serves "to depict the origins" of Christmas as a "significant historical religious event." ante, at 681, 680, and that the creche "is identified with one religious faith," ante, at 685, we are nevertheless expected to believe that Pawtucket's use of the creche does not signal the city's support for the sectarian symbolism that the nativity scene evokes. The effect of the creche, of course, must be gauged not only by its inherent religious
The Court's struggle to ignore the clear religious effect of the creche seems to me misguided for several reasons. In the first place, the city has positioned the creche in a central and highly visible location within the Hodgson Park display. The District Court's findings in this regard are unambiguous:
Moreover, the city has done nothing to disclaim government approval of the religious significance of the creche, to suggest that the creche represents only one religious symbol among many others that might be included in a seasonal display truly aimed at providing a wide catalog of ethnic and religious celebrations, or to disassociate itself from the religious content of the creche. In Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 225, we noted that reading aloud
Third, we have consistently acknowledged that an otherwise secular setting alone does not suffice to justify a governmental practice that has the effect of aiding religion. In Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 743 (1973), for instance, we observed that "[a]id normally may be thought to have a primary effect of advancing religion . . . when it [supports] a specifically religious activity in an otherwise substantially secular setting." The demonstrably secular context of public education, therefore, did not save the challenged practice of school prayer in Engel or in Schempp. Similarly, in Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 683 (1971), despite the generally secular thrust of the financing legislation under review, the Court unanimously struck down that aspect of the program which permitted church-related institutions eventually to assume total control over the use of buildings constructed with federal aid.
Second. The Court also attempts to justify the creche by entertaining a beguilingly simple, yet faulty syllogism. The Court begins by noting that government may recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday; the Court then asserts that the creche is nothing more than a traditional element of Christmas celebrations; and it concludes that the inclusion of a creche as part of a government's annual Christmas celebration is constitutionally permissible. See ante, at 680-683, 685-686; see also ante, at 692-694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). The Court apparently believes that once it finds that the designation of Christmas as a public holiday is constitutionally acceptable, it is then free to conclude that virtually every form of governmental association with the celebration of the holiday is also constitutional. The vice of this dangerously superficial argument is that it overlooks the fact that the Christmas holiday in our national culture contains both secular and sectarian elements.
When government decides to recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from preholiday activities. The Free Exercise Clause, of course, does not necessarily compel the government to provide this accommodation, but neither is the Establishment Clause offended by such a step. Cf. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952). Because it is clear that the celebration of Christmas has both secular and sectarian elements, it may well be that by taking note of the holiday, the government is simply seeking to serve the same kinds of wholly secular goals — for instance, promoting goodwill and a common day of rest — that were found to justify Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961).
The inclusion of a creche in Pawtucket's otherwise secular celebration of Christmas clearly violates these principles. Unlike such secular figures as Santa Claus, reindeer, and carolers, a nativity scene represents far more than a mere "traditional" symbol of Christmas. The essence of the creche's symbolic purpose and effect is to prompt the observer to experience a sense of simple awe and wonder appropriate to the contemplation of one of the central elements of Christian dogma — that God sent His Son into the world to be a Messiah.
For these reasons, the creche in this context simply cannot be viewed as playing the same role that an ordinary museum display does. See ante, at 676-677, 683, 685. The Court seems to assume that prohibiting Pawtucket from displaying a creche would be tantamount to prohibiting a state college from including the Bible or Milton's Paradise Lost in a course on English literature. But in those cases the religiously inspired materials are being considered solely as literature. The purpose is plainly not to single out the particular religious beliefs that may have inspired the authors, but to see in these writings the outlines of a larger imaginative universe shared with other forms of literary expression.
Although the Court's relaxed application of the Lemon test to Pawtucket's creche is regrettable, it is at least understandable and properly limited to the particular facts of this case. The Court's opinion, however, also sounds a broader
Intuition tells us that some official "acknowledgment" is inevitable in a religious society if government is not to adopt a stilted indifference to the religious life of the people. See Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 232 (1948) (Jackson, J., concurring). It is equally true, however, that if government is to remain scrupulously neutral in matters of religious conscience, as our Constitution requires, then it must avoid those overly broad acknowledgements of religious practices that may imply governmental favoritism toward one set of religious beliefs. This does not mean, of course, that public officials may not take account, when necessary, of the separate existence and significance of the religious institutions and practices in the society they govern. Should government choose to incorporate some arguably religious element into its public ceremonies, that acknowledgment must be impartial; it must not tend to promote one faith or handicap another; and it should not sponsor religion generally over nonreligion. Thus, in a series of decisions concerned with such acknowledgments, we have repeatedly held that any active form of public acknowledgment of religion indicating sponsorship or endorsement is forbiden. E. g., Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) (posting of Ten Commandments in schoolroom); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968) (prohibition on teaching principles of Darwinian evolution); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963) (mandatory Bible-reading at beginning of
Despite this body of case law, the Court has never comprehensively addressed the extent to which government may acknowledge religion by, for example, incorporating religious references into public ceremonies and proclamations, and I do not presume to offer a comprehensive approach. Nevertheless, it appears from our prior decisions that at least three principles — tracing the narrow channels which government acknowledgments must follow to satisfy the Establishment Clause — may be identified. First, although the government may not be compelled to do so by the Free Exercise Clause, it may, consistently with the Establishment Clause, act to accommodate to some extent the opportunities of individuals to practice their religion. See Schempp, supra, at 296-299 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). That is the essential meaning, I submit, of this Court's decision in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), finding that government does not violate the Establishment Clause when it simply chooses to "close its doors or suspend its operations as to those who want to repair to their religious sanctuary for worship or instruction." Id., at 314. And for me that principle would justify government's decision to declare December 25th a public holiday. See supra, at 710.
Second, our cases recognize that while a particular governmental practice may have derived from religious motivations and retain certain religious connotations, it is nonetheless permissible for the government to pursue the practice when it is continued today solely for secular reasons. As this Court noted with reference to Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961), the mere fact that a governmental practice coincides to some extent with certain religious beliefs does not render it unconstitutional. Thanksgiving Day, in my view, fits easily within this principle,
Finally, we have noted that government cannot be completely prohibited from recognizing in its public actions the religious beliefs and practices of the American people as an aspect of our national history and culture. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 435, n. 21; Schempp, supra, at 300-304 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). While I remain uncertain about these questions, I would suggest that such practices as the designation of "In God We Trust" as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in Dean Rostow's apt phrase, as a form a "ceremonial deism,"
The creche fits none of these categories. Inclusion of the creche is not necessary to accommodate individual religious expression. This is plainly not a case in which individual residents of Pawtucket have claimed the right to place a creche as part of a wholly private display on public land. Cf. Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981); McCreary v. Stone, 575 F.Supp. 1112 (SDNY 1983). Nor is the inclusion of the creche necessary to serve wholly secular goals; it is clear that the city's secular purposes of celebrating the Christmas holiday and promoting retail commerce can be fully served without the creche. Cf. McGowan v. Maryland, and supra, at 699-700. And the creche, because of its unique association with Christianity, is clearly more sectarian than those references to God that we accept in ceremonial phrases or in other contexts that assure neutrality. The religious works on display at the National Gallery, Presidential references to God during an Inaugural Address, or the national motto present no risk of establishing religion. To be sure, our understanding of these expressions may begin in contemplation of some religious element, but it does not end there. Their message is dominantly secular. In contrast, the message of the creche begins and ends with reverence for a particular image of the divine.
By insisting that such a distinctively sectarian message is merely an unobjectionable part of our "religious heritage," see ante, at 676, 685-686, the Court takes a long step backwards
The American historical experience concerning the public celebration of Christmas, if carefully examined, provides no support for the Court's decision. The opening sections of the Court's opinion, while seeking to rely on historical evidence, do no more than recognize the obvious: because of the strong religious currents that run through our history, an inflexible or absolutistic enforcement of the Establishment Clause would be both imprudent and impossible. See ante, at 673-678. This observation is at once uncontroversial and unilluminating. Simply enumerating the various ways in which the Federal Government has recognized the vital role religion plays in our society does nothing to help decide the question presented in this case.
Indeed, the Court's approach suggests a fundamental misapprehension of the proper uses of history in constitutional interpretation. Certainly, our decisions reflect the fact that an awareness of historical practice often can provide a useful guide in interpreting the abstract language of the Establishment Clause. See, e. g., Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S., at 676-680; McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S., at 431-445; Engel, 370 U. S., at 425-429. But historical acceptance of a particular practice alone is never sufficient to justify a challenged governmental action, since, as the Court has rightly observed, "no one acquires a vested or protected right in violation of the Constitution by long use, even when that span of time covers our entire national existence and indeed predates it." Walz, supra, at 678. See also Committee for
In McGowan, for instance, the Court carefully canvassed the entire history of Sunday Closing Laws from the colonial period up to modern times. On the basis of this analysis, we concluded that while such laws were rooted in religious motivations, the current purpose was to serve the wholly secular goal of providing a uniform day of rest for all citizens. 366 U. S., at 445. Our inquiry in Walz was similarly confined to the special history of the practice under review. There the Court found a pattern of "undeviating acceptance" over the entire course of the Nation's history of according property-tax exemptions to religious organizations, a pattern which supported our finding that the practice did not violate the Religion Clauses. Finally, where direct inquiry into the Framers' intent reveals that the First Amendment was not understood to prohibit a particular practice, we have found such an understanding compelling. Thus, in Marsh v. Chambers, after marshaling the historical evidence which indicated that the First Congress had authorized the appointment of paid chaplains for its own proceedings only three days before it reached agreement on the final wording of the Bill of Rights, the Court concluded on the basis of this "unique history" that the modern-day practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer was constitutional. 463 U. S., at 787-791.
Although invoking these decisions in support of its result, the Court wholly fails to discuss the history of the public celebration of Christmas or the use of publicly displayed nativity scenes. The Court, instead, simply asserts, without any historical analysis or support whatsoever, that the now familiar
The intent of the Framers with respect to the public display of nativity scenes is virtually impossible to discern primarily because the widespread celebration of Christmas did not emerge in its present form until well into the 19th century. Carrying a well-defined Puritan hostility to the celebration of Christ's birth with them to the New World, the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony pursued a vigilant policy of opposition to any public celebration of the holiday.
During the 18th century, sectarian division over the celebration of the holiday continued. As increasing numbers of members of the Anglican and the Dutch and German Reformed Churches arrived, the practice of celebrating Christmas as a purely religious holiday grew. But denominational differences continued to dictate differences in attitude toward the holiday. American Anglicans, who carried with them the Church of England's acceptance of the holiday, Roman Catholics, and various German groups all made the celebration of Christmas a vital part of their religious life. By contrast, many nonconforming Protestant groups, including the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists, continued to regard the holiday with suspicion and antagonism well into the 19th century.
Many of the same religious sects that were devotedly opposed to the celebration of Christmas on purely religious grounds, were also some of the most vocal and dedicated foes of established religions in the period just prior to the Revolutionary War.
Furthermore, unlike the religious tax exemptions upheld in Walz, the public display of nativity scenes as part of governmental celebrations of Christmas does not come to us supported by an unbroken history of widespread acceptance. It was not until 1836 that a State first granted legal recognition to Christmas as a public holiday. This was followed in the period between 1845 and 1865, by 28 jurisdictions which included Christmas Day as a legal holiday.
The historical evidence with respect to public financing and support for governmental displays of nativity scenes is even more difficult to gauge. What is known suggests that German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania early in the 18th century, presumably drawing upon European traditions, were probably the first to introduce nativity scenes to the American celebration of Christmas.
In sum, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Framers would have expressly approved a federal celebration of the Christmas holiday including public displays of a nativity
Under our constitutional scheme, the role of safeguarding our "religious heritage" and of promoting religious beliefs is reserved as the exclusive prerogative of our Nation's churches, religious institutions, and spiritual leaders. Because the Framers of the Establishment Clause understood that "religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy to permit its `unhallowed perversion' by civil [authorities]," Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S., at 432, the Clause demands that government play no role in this effort. The Court today brushes aside these concerns by insisting that Pawtucket has done nothing more than include a "traditional" symbol of Christmas in its celebration of this national holiday, thereby muting the religious content of the creche. Ante, at 685. But the city's action should be recognized for what it is: a coercive, though perhaps small, step toward establishing the sectarian preferences of the majority at the expense of the minority, accomplished by placing public facilities and funds in support of the religious symbolism and theological tidings that the
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE STEVENS joins, dissenting.
As JUSTICE BRENNAN points out, the logic of the Court's decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613 (1971) (which THE CHIEF JUSTICE would say has been applied by this Court "often," ante, at 679, but which JUSTICE O'CONNOR acknowledges with the words, "Our prior cases have used the three-part test articulated in Lemon," ante, at 688), compels an affirmance here. If that case and its guidelines mean anything, the presence of Pawtucket's creche in a municipally sponsored display must be held to be a violation of the First Amendment.
Not only does the Court's resolution of this controversy make light of our precedents, but also, ironically, the majority does an injustice to the creche and the message it manifests. While certain persons, including the Mayor of Pawtucket, undertook a crusade to "keep `Christ' in Christmas," App. 161, the Court today has declared that presence virtually irrelevant. The majority urges that the display, "with or without a creche," "recall[s] the religious nature of the Holiday," and "engenders a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season." Ante, at 685. Before the District Court, an expert witness for the city made
The import of the Court's decision is to encourage use of the creche in a municipally sponsored display, a setting where Christians feel constrained in acknowledging its symbolic meaning and non-Christians feel alienated by its presence. Surely, this is a misuse of a sacred symbol. Because I cannot join the Court in denying either the force of our precedents or the sacred message that is at the core of the creche, I dissent and join JUSTICE BRENNAN's opinion.
Presidents Adams and Madison also issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, as have almost all our Presidents, see 3 A. Stokes, Church and State in the United States 180-193 (1950), through the incumbent, see Presidential Proclamation No. 4883, 3 CFR 68 (1982).
"[I]t is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our Allies, to His children in other lands.
"To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas." Presidential Proclamation No. 2629, 58 Stat. 1160.
President Reagan and his immediate predecessors have issued similar Proclamations. See, e. g., Presidential Proclamation No. 5098, 3 CFR 94 (1984); Presidential Proclamation No. 4803, 3 CFR 117 (1981); Presidential Proclamation No. 4333, 3 CFR 419 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 4093, 3 CFR 89 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3752, 3 CFR 75 (1966-1970 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3560, 3 CFR 312 (1959-1963 Comp.).
"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster `an excessive government entanglement with religion.' " 403 U. S., at 612-613 (citations omitted).
Though phrased as a uniformly applicable test for constitutionality, this three-part test "provides `no more than [a] helpful signpos[t]' in dealing with Establishment Clause challenges." Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 394 (1983) (quoting Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 741 (1973)).
Moreover, the Court has held that a statute or practice that plainly embodies an intentional discrimination among religions must be closely fitted to a compelling state purpose in order to survive constitutional challenge. See Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982). As the Court's opinion observes, ante, at 687, n. 13, this case does not involve such discrimination. The Larson standard, I believe, may be assimilated to the Lemon test in the clarified version I propose. Plain intentional discrimination should give rise to a presumption, which may be overcome by a showing of compelling purpose and close fit, that the challenged government conduct constitutes an endorsement of the favored religion or a disapproval of the disfavored.
"When a city so openly promotes the religious meaning of one religion's holidays, the benefit reaped by that religion and the disadvantage suffered by other religions is obvious. Those persons who do not share those holidays are relegated to the status of outsiders by their own government; those persons who do observe those holidays can take pleasure in seeing the symbol of their belief given official sanction and special status." Fox v. City of Los Angeles, 22 Cal. 3d, at 803, 587 P. 2d, at 670 (striking down as unconstitutional the erection of an illuminated cross in front of city hall).
See also Lowe v. City of Eugene, 254 Ore., at 544-546, 463 P. 2d, at 363.
Moreover, although the Court brushes the point aside with little explanation, see ante, at 687, n. 13, the Lemon decision's three-prong analysis is not the only available standard of review. As the Court of Appeals recognized, the "strict scrutiny" analysis adopted in Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S., at 244-246, addresses situations in which a governmental policy or practice grants official preference to one religious denomination over another. 691 F.2d 1029, 1034-1035 (CA1 1982). While I am inclined to agree with the Court of Appeals that Pawtucket's practice fails this test, it is not necessary that I address this point in view of my conclusion that the city's inclusion of the creche violates the standards fixed in Lemon.
Furthermore, I continue to believe that the test I set forth in Schempp is an appropriate means of determining whether rights guaranteed by the Establishment Clause have been infringed. In my view, "those involvements of religious with secular institutions which (a) serve the essentially religious activities of religious institutions; (b) employ the organs of government for essentially religious purposes; or (c) use essentially religious means to serve governmental ends, where secular means would suffice" must be struck down. 374 U. S., at 294-295. In the present case, I particularly believe the third element of this test is not met, since all of Pawtucket's governmental goals — celebrating the holiday season and promoting commerce — can be fully realized without the use of the creche by employing such wholly secular means as Santa Claus, reindeer, and cutout figures. See supra, at 699-700.
Similarly, those who follow the tenets of Unitarianism might well find Pawtucket's support for the symbolism of the creche, which highlights the Trinitarian tradition in Christian faith, to be an affront to their belief in a single divine being. See J. Williams, What Americans Believe and How They Worship 316-317 (3d ed. 1969). See also C. Olmstead, History of Religion in the United States 296-299 (1960).
"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, disciplines, or exercises. . . . [I]t is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer . . . [But] I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines . . . . Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline." 11 Jefferson's Writings 428-430 (1904) (emphasis deleted).
See generally L. Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom 266 (1967).
In addition, the Solicitor General, appearing as amicus in support of petitioners, was asked: "Do we have . . . evidence [of the intent of the Framers] here with respect to the display of a nativity scene?" He responded: "Not with that degree of specificity." Id., at 22-23.
"The churches of the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists were not open on Dec. 25 except where some Mission Schools had a celebration. They do not accept the day as a Holy One, but the Episcopalian, Catholic and German Churches were all open. Inside they were decked with evergreens." Quoted in Barnett 8.
In addition, consider the account written in 1874 of Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist, describing his New England childhood:
"To me Christmas is a foreign day, and I shall die so. When I was a boy I wondered what Christmas was. I knew there was such a time, because we had an Episcopal church in our town and I saw them dressing it with evergreens . . . . A little later I understood it was a Romish institution, kept up by the Romish Church. Brought up in the strictest state of New England, brought up in the most literal style of worship . . . I passed all my youth without any knowledge of Christmas, and so I have no associations with the day." Quoted in Meyers, supra n. 15, at 315-316.
Significantly, it was not until 1885 that Congress provided holiday payment for federal employees on December 25. See J. Res. 5, 23 Stat. 516.