The Public Square

The Public Square

The ACLU has actively supported the right of people to preach their religion in public places and to go door-to-door to spread their religious messages. We have long defended individuals, families, and religious communities who wish to show their religion in public. More

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, cathedrals, and Gurdwaras are plainly visible in the public sphere in America and the right to display religious symbols and to construct religious edifices is protected by the Constitution. The Constitution properly protects the right of religious figures to preach their messages over the public airwaves. Religious books, magazines, and newspapers are freely published and delivered through the U.S. Postal System. No other industrialized democracy has as much religion in the public square as the U.S.

Some people, however, mistakenly use the word "public" when they really mean "governmental." This can be seen, for example, with Ten Commandments monuments. The right of churches and families to erect such monuments on their own property is constitutionally protected, regardless of whether it is public or private and regardless of whether someone is offended or not. A Christian cross that is fully visible from a public sidewalk is constitutionally protected when placed in front of a church. But if that same cross were moved across the street and placed in front of city hall, it would violate the Constitution. The issue is not "religion in the public square" — as the rhetoric misleadingly suggests — but whether the government should be making decisions about whose sacred texts and symbols should be placed on government property and whose should be rejected.

Additional Resources

Salazar v. Buono (2010 case)

Supreme Court Lets Ruling Stand That Religious Displays At U.S. Post Office Are Unconstitutional (2010 press release)

Supreme Court Lets Ruling Stand That Religious Monument At Oklahoma Courthouse Is Unconstitutional (2010 press release)

Walling off the Witnesses (2010 blog)

ACLU of Southern California Responds to Misleading Statements about Salazar v. Buono (aclu-sc.org) (2009 press release)

ACLU of Virginia Weighs in on Sectarian Prayers at Chesapeake City Council Meetings (2009 press release)

Supreme Court Briefing 2009–10 Term (2009 blog)

Supreme Court Hears ACLU Case Involving Latin Cross War Memorial In Mojave Desert (2009 press release)

 

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