Presented by our member organization the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Trunk v. San Diego (9th Circuit Court of Appeals)
On September 8th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ended a 25-year battle over the Latin cross in San Diego, California. The order dismissed the case as moot after the Department of Defense sold the cross and the land beneath it to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association for $1.4 million last July. The cross no longer sits on government property so is a victory for state/church separation. This case started in 1989 and went up to the Supreme Court twice. The 9th Circuit was firm in its previous rulings that crosses on government land violate the Establishment Clause.
Lund v. Rowan County (4th Circuit Court of Appeals)
In a 201 ruling, of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling concerning prayer at legislative meetings on September 19th. The appellate court upheld Rowan County's policy that permitted county commissioners to offer a prayer before the meetings on a rotating basis. In upholding this prayer practice the panel stated that "we find the Board's legislative prayer practice constitutional and reverse the judgment of the district court.... There is a clear line of precedent not only upholding the practice of legislative prayer, but acknowledging the ways in which it can bring together citizens of all backgrounds and encourage them to participate in the workings of their government." It did not matter that the commissioners led the prayers themselves: "the Supreme Court's holding in Town of Greece underscores a long-standing practice not only of legislative prayer generally but of lawmaker-led prayer specifically. Opening invocations offered by elected legislators have long been accepted as a permissible form of religious observance." The ACLU of North Carolina intends to petition for en banc review.
FFRF v. Concord Community Schools (Indiana)
U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana, issued a ruling in a case brought by FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union challenging a live nativity tableau of students as part of Concord Community Schools' annual "Christmas Spectacular."
The ACLU and FFRF won a preliminary injunction Dec. 2 against the live nativity. The nearly 50-year violation involved students reenacting the supposed birth of the Christian savior, as school officials read passages from the New Testament and devotional Christmas hymns dominated the musical program.
The district responded to the lawsuit by adding one Chanukah song and one Kwanzaa song to its program. After the preliminary injunction, it replaced the student actors in its nativity scene with mannequins, but kept the usual 20 minutes of devotional Christmas songs performed by students during four public concerts.
Judge DeGuilio's decision held that the 2015 change from a live nativity enactment to a static nativity display did not violate the Establishment Clause. The ruling left untouched the court's earlier decision enjoining the live nativity.
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (U.S. District Court for Western District of Washington)
Judge Ronald Leighton denied a preliminary injunction requested by Coach Kennedy, a high school football coach who prayed with his team mid-field after football games. Coach Kennedy was suspended for his actions and then sued the district alleging free speech, free exercise and Title VII violations. This ruling means the school district does not have to immediately re-hire him.
Caplan v. Town of Acton (Massachusetts)
A superior court judge in Massachusetts denied a request for a preliminary injunction in a case over a town giving grants to churches for renovations and upkeep. The suit, filed by Americans United on behalf of 13 plaintiffs, contends that these distributions violate the "anti-aid" provision of the Massachusetts Constitution. AU intends to appeal the ruling.