Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary

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Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 20, 1985
Decided March 27, 1985
Full case name Board of Trustees of the Village of Scarsdale, et al. v. Kathleen S. McCreary, et al.
Docket nos. 84-277
Citations 471 U.S. 83 (more)
105 S.Ct. 1859; 85 L.Ed.2d 63
Argument Oral argument
Opinion announcement Opinion announcement
Prior history McCreary v. Stone (575 F.Supp. 1112) S.D.N.Y.; Cert. to 2d Cir. (739 F.2d 716)
Holding
Judgement of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed as per an evenly split Court. Due to ambiguity in the lower court's decision, it is unclear whether the Village is obliged to display a privately-sponsored nativity scene on public land or if it may adopt neutral rules permitting the exclusion of the nativity scene.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell, Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Powell took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary, 471 U.S. 83 (1985), was a United States Supreme Court case in which an evenly split Court upheld per curiam a lower court's decision that the display of a privately sponsored nativity scene on public property does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Background

The Village of Scarsdale (coextensive with the Town of Scarsdale) in Westchester County, New York had permitted since 1957 the annual display of creches sponsored by the Scarsdale Creche Committee, a private organization, in Boniface Circle, a small public park in the central business district, for about two weeks during the Christmas season. However, in 1981, the Village Board of Trustees began barring the placement of nativity scenes in the park due to increasing opposition from residents, fifty percent of whom were Jewish, who deemed it "unneighborly" and "insensitive."

In 1983, the Creche Committee along with a group of twelve residents (one of whom being resident Kathleen McCreary), referred to as the Citizens' Group, brought a suit against the Scarsdale Board of Trustees in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that the Board's withdrawal of permission to display the nativity scene in the park was a violation of the First Amendment's protection of free speech and free exercise of religion. Judge Charles E. Stewart, Jr. ruled on December 8, 1983 in the case of McCreary v. Stone (575 F.Supp. 1112) that the display of the nativity scene did, indeed, constitute an impermissible establishment of religion, stating that ''when a symbol is left on public land, the land actually becomes the message-bearer.''[1]

Certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was granted and the case was heard in June 1984. The appeals court affirmed that the district court's determination that the Village's denial of the display of the nativity scene was content-based (meaning the denial was based on the religious nature of the display) as well as its findings of fact. However, the court of appeals disagreed with the district court's analysis of Widmar v. Vincent (on which its decision was partially based) in light of Lynch v. Donnelly (which came only one month after the district court's ruling) saying "an equal-access policy would not contravene the establishment clause." The court of appeals reversed the decision and remanded the case.[2]

The Scarsdale Board interpreted the court of appeals' decision to mean it was compelled to display the nativity scene on public land. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Issue

At issue was whether the display of a privately sponsored nativity scene, a religious symbol, on public land was a violation of the separation of church and state laid out in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. This protection against the establishment of religion was balanced against the First Amendment protections of free speech and free exercise of religion.[3]

Opinion of the Court

The case was argued before the Supreme Court on February 20, 1985 and a decision was announced on March 27, 1985.

Justice Powell did not partake in the consideration and decision of the case because he was recovering from surgery at the time. With an evenly split Court, the decision of the lower court of appeals was affirmed per curiam. The Supreme Court declined to order that the case be re-argued at a later date.

It is ambiguous in the lower court's decision whether the village government may adopt neutral rules permitting or excluding the display of a privately sponsored nativity scene on public land or whether it is obliged to permit the display of the nativity scene on public land.[4]

Justices O'Connor, Rehnquist and White during oral argument disagreed with the Village's interpretation of the appeals court's decision as meaning it was compelled to display the nativity scene on public lands. Instead, they read the decision more narrowly to state that the Village may prohibit the nativity scene on a more neutral basis.[5]

See also

References

  1. ^ Kolbert, Elizabeth (December 2, 1984). "Scarsdale Creche: The Debate Goes On". New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 
  2. ^ "McCreary v. Stone". Leagle. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 
  3. ^ Feron, James (July 21, 1983). "Suit Challenges Scarsdale Creche Ban". New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ "U.S. High Court Deadlocks on Scarsdale Creche Case". New York Times. March 28, 1985. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 
  5. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (February 21, 1985). "Scarsdale's Creche Ban Defended Before Justices". New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2016. 

External links

  • U.S. Supreme Court opinion on Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary
  • U.S. Supreme Court oral argument on Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit opinion on McCreary v. Stone
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