The United States Supreme Court has long wrestled with the task of giving meaning to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution in modern American Society. Despite over forty years of labor, the Supreme Court's efforts to fashion a clear, predictable and consistent framework for drawing the line between government and religion have been largely unsatisfying. One particularly problematic area of Establishment Clause jurisprudence has involved the display of religious symbols under public auspices. The problems in this area have been caused by the uncertainty and confusion generated by the Supreme Court's prior decisions addressing the issue of what type of display of religious symbols under governmental auspices is constitutionally permissible. With the grant of certiorari in the case of County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, the Supreme Court was presented with an excellent opportunity to provide clear guidelines for addressing this issue by setting forth a bright line rule to govern such displays. The Supreme Court did not take advantage of that opportunity. Rather than providing a rule, the Supreme Court provided an indeterminate analytical framework where everything is relevant but nothing is singularly decisive. The Supreme Court has made answering the question of what type of display of religious symbols under governmental auspices is constitutionally permissible even more difficult than under its prior decisions, and has made likely the possibility of more controversy, litigation and inconsistent results in this sensitive area.
George M. Janocsko,
Beyond the "Plastic Reindeer Rule": The Curious Case of County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union,
Duq. L. Rev.
Available at: https://dsc.duq.edu/dlr/vol28/iss3/4