ACLU of Indiana Wins Case Against Evansville Religious Display on Public Property

“To stay within constitutional bounds... [The City of Evansville] must stop short of creating a message that overwhelms the nature of the public forum. –Judge Sarah Evans Barker

July 31, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Today a federal judge halted the City of Evansville from permitting the erection of a religious display on public property along the city’s riverfront, saying the display conveys an endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The ruling by Judge Sarah Evans Barker was issued just five weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed suit on behalf of two Vanderburgh County residents against the City for permitting the display of up to 31 six-foot-tall plastic crosses on a stretch of Riverside drive between Court Street and Locust Street. The public space upon which the crosses would have been displayed is a popular destination for residents and visitors. The Establishment Clause prohibits the state from endorsing a specific religion or any religion at all.

“We are extremely happy that the Court has affirmed that the First Amendment does not allow for a display of this nature,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana staff attorney. “The City cannot dissociate itself from a religious display in the public right-of-way simply because it would be erected at the urging of a private party.”

Churches are free to display emblems of their faith on their own property.

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said, “The court recognized that, in the balance between the Establishment Clause and the individual right to free exercise of religion, a display of this magnitude crosses the line into endorsement of a specific religion.”

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