December 01, 2017

ABA Legal Fact Check explores legal basis for religious displays in public places during holidays

CHICAGO, Dec. 1, 2017 — December heralds many religious holidays, including Christmas and Hanukkah, and each year communities across the country struggle with issues stemming from the constitutional tension between holiday expression and religious endorsement. In a new ABA Legal Fact Check posted today, the American Bar Association examines U.S. Supreme Court case law and guidance on this topic.

Consider what the village board in Mundelein, Ill., a suburb about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, faced a few weeks ago. In late summer, a resident asked the board to place a Hanukkah menorah in a public park next to the traditional Christmas tree when erecting the annual holiday display. Village attorney Charles Marino relied on U.S. Supreme Court decisions from three decades ago to provide guidance that a “Christmas tree or a holiday tree is secular” and that a Menorah or creche “is a religious symbol.” The Mundelein Village Board turned down the request.

ABA Legal Fact Check seeks to help the media and public find dependable answers and explanations to swirling and sometimes confusing legal questions. The URL for the new site is www.abalegalfactcheck.com. Follow us on twitter @ABAFactCheck.

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