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Winter 2014 Bar Question 5

Constitutional Law

  Question
 

For many years, the Old Ways Fellowship, a neopagan religious organization, received permission from the City’s Building Authority to display a five-foot diameter symbol of the sun in the lobby of City’s Municipal Government Building during the week surrounding the Winter Solstice.  The display was accompanied by a sign stating “Old Ways Fellowship wishes you a happy Winter Solstice.”
Last year the Building Authority adopted a new “Policy on Seasonal Displays,” which states:
Religious displays and symbols are not permitted in any government building.  Such  displays  and  symbols  impermissibly  convey  the appearance of government endorsement of religion.

Previously, the Building Authority had allowed access to a wide variety of public and private  speakers  and  displays  in  the  lobby  of  the  Municipal  Government  Building. Based on the new policy, however, it denied the Old Ways Fellowship a permit for the sun display.

After it was informed by counsel that courts treat Christmas trees as secular symbols, rather than religious symbols, the Building Authority decided to erect a Christmas tree in the lobby of the Municipal Government Building, while continuing to prohibit the Old Ways Fellowship sun display.

The Old Ways Fellowship contests the Building Authority’s policy and its decision regarding the Christmas tree.  It has offered to put up a disclaimer sign explaining that the Winter Solstice greeting is not endorsed by City.  The Building Authority has turned down this offer.

The Old Ways Fellowship has filed suit claiming violation of the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution.

What arguments may the Old Ways Fellowship reasonably raise in support of its claim and how are they likely to fare?  Discuss.

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Answer

Constitutional Law
Question 5, Winter 2014

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