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ALLEN v. MORTON

November 3, 1971

Reverend Thomas B. ALLEN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Rogers C.B. MORTON et al., Defendants


John H. Pratt, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

JOHN H. PRATT, District Judge.

 At the same time, the Court of Appeals suggested: "Perhaps an appropriate accompanying plaque, rather than a mere explanation in pamphlets with lesser circulation, might serve both to allay the impression of Government sponsorship of religious belief and to set the proper respectful tone in the representation of spiritual customs." Id. at 36-37, 424 F.2d at 949-950. In a supplementary footnote, which further explained its thinking, the Circuit Court stated that "The District Court may determine that conditional relief is appropriate, i.e. that if there is substance to [plaintiffs'] complaints, they may be met by modification or supplement to the display rather than its removal." Id. at 37, 424 F.2d at 950. Acting on the suggestion referred to, the National Park Service, prior to the 1970 Pageant, erected three plaques in appropriate places explaining the secular history and nature of the Pageant.

 Pursuant to the remand, this Court held a five-day evidentiary hearing on the issues raised by the complaint. Subsequently, lengthy post-trial memoranda were submitted and have been considered by the Court.

 The Christmas Pageant of Peace

 The Christmas Pageant of Peace ("Pageant") is an annual event initiated in 1954 commemorating the secular recognition of Christmas as a national holiday. It takes place on the Ellipse area, which is immediately south of the White House, during the period from about December 10 to the following January 3. Currently, it is co-sponsored by the National Park Service and by the Christmas Pageant of Peace, Inc., a non-sectarian, non-partisan civic organization organized and promoted by the Washington Board of Trade.

 The Pageant consists of a number of displays, artistically arranged and presented, traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas. One such display is the very large National Christmas Tree donated each year by a different State of the Union and lighted with the assistance of the General Electric Company. Fifty-seven smaller trees, representing fifty states and seven territories, line the "Pathway to Peace" leading up to the National Christmas Tree. In addition, there is a burning Yule Log, a pen of eight live reindeer borrowed from the National Zoological Park, and the illuminated life size creche, which is the subject of the present litigation. There is also an illuminated stage where many musical and ceremonial programs traditionally associated with Christmas take place during the three-week period of the Pageant.

 It should be pointed out that plaintiffs have not directly attacked the Pageant as a whole, which commemorates Christmas, the date Christianity has recognized as the day of Christ's birth. Nor have they challenged the Pageant's inclusion of decorated Christmas trees, the reindeer and the Yule Log, Christmas symbols which have long been traditionally associated with Christianity's celebration of Christmas. Instead, they have focused their attack upon a single aspect of the entire Christmas display which the Pageant has included as part of its secular commemoration of Christmas -- a creche scene depicting the birth of Christ in the manger at Bethelem. The problem presented to the Court is whether the construction, display and maintenance of the creche, in the context just described, is a violation of the First Amendment.

 The Applicable Test

 The standard to be applied, as was pointed out by the Court of Appeals in Allen v. Hickel, is the two-fold test enunciated in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 222, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 1571, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 (1963);

 
"The test may be stated as follows: what are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to say that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion." (emphasis supplied)

 More recently, in Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, 90 S. Ct. 1409, 25 L. Ed. 2d 697 (1970), the Supreme Court, considering the possible limits of governmental involvement with religion, added a possible third test. In this case, which held that property tax exemptions to churches do not violate the Establishment Clause or the First Amendment, the Court speaking through Chief Justice Burger, stated at page 674, 90 S. Ct. at page 1414:

 
"We must also be sure that the end result -- the effect -- is not an excessive government entanglement with religion. The test is inescapably one of degree." ...

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