Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)

The Supreme Court considered whether the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by including a nativity scene in the Christmas display in a public park, among other figures and decorations traditionally associated with Christmas.

The Court applied the three-pronged test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and, in a 5-4 decision, held that “notwithstanding the religious significance of the crèche, the city of Pawtucket has not violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” The principal purpose of the nativity scene was to celebrate and depict the origins of a national holiday, and in that, it passed the three-pronged test. The Court further stated that the government may not “convey a message of endorsement or disapproval of religion.”