Cafeteria Americans

By PHILLIPE AND JORGE  |  August 18, 2010


Our current local First Amendment dust-up — over a school prayer posted in Cranston High School West's auditorium — is, thankfully, nowhere near as toxic as the "Mohammedan Madness" that's playing out on a cable news station near you. It's also a bit more clear-cut. It reminds your superior correspondents of the Pawtucket City Hall Nativity display case that took place more than 25 years ago (Lynch v. Donnelly).

Then-Pawtucket Mayor, Dennis Lynch (Bill & Patrick's dad), is the Lynch in question. The city had erected a Christmas display in a park owned by a nonprofit organization and located in the heart of the city's shopping district. This display had been going on for more than 40 years and featured a Santa Claus house, Christmas tree, a banner that read "Seasons Greetings," and a creche, or Nativity scene. In 1983, an action was brought in Federal District Court, challenging the inclusion of the creche in the display on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was held that, despite the religious nature of the creche, the city had not violated the establishment clause. Among the city's contentions was that the purpose of the display was "exclusively secular." The court felt that in the context of the Santa house and the tree and the other secular elements, the creche was reasonably innocuous.

It was P+J's belief at the time (and still is) that if one is serious about one's religious beliefs, one doesn't want them mixed up in a frivolous holiday display. So, despite the fact that Mayor Lynch was able to declare victory in this "battle," from Casa Diablo's perspective, he had lost the war. Needless to say, Mayor Lynch vigorously disagreed with us at the time.

Unlike in 1984 (when the Supreme Court decision on Lynch v. Donnelly came down, written by Chief Justice Burger), we have the Internet. If you're interested in this (or would just like to see if you agree with P+J or Mayor Lynch's interpretation of the decision) you can easily summon up the entire decision on the Web.

We realize it's too late to say "fuhgeddaboutit" to the city fathers and mothers of Cranston wrestling with the controversy over that school prayer, but we would still hope that they don't try to sneak in any quasi-religious lingo in their soon-to-be scrubbed High School Creed. The First Amendment is heavy stuff and one of its implications is that one should take his or her religious beliefs as serious and heavy stuff, too heavy to be bandied about the gym or placed next to the Seven Dwarfs and Santa on a lawn in Pawtucket. It's between you and the Almighty.


. . . to GOP gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt, who last week said that his "endorsement of choice" would be one from . . . Sarah Palin! Yes, P+J would like to be endorsed by Lady Gaga whose primary distinction from Sarah Palin is that Gaga is probably more knowledgeable about what used to be called "American civics" and, we suspect, would beat Palin in a head-to-head contest for public office pretty much anywhere. Good move, Victor. See ya later.

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