Court Rules: Cincinnati Cannot Ban Religious Displays

April 6, 2004

Source: The First Amendment Center

On April 6, 2004 The First Amendment Center reported, "City officials cannot bar religious displays on a downtown plaza during the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

In Chabad of Southern Ohio v. City of Cincinnati, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that allowed a Jewish organization to display a large, lighted menorah on Fountain Square.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott had held in 2002 that Cincinnati's ordinance limiting religious displays was unconstitutional, and barred the city from enforcing it.

The city had argued that it should have exclusive use of the square during the last two weeks of November through the first week of January because allowing private organizations to erect unattended displays would overcrowd the square and make it difficult to keep order.

Chabad of Southern Ohio and Congregation Lubavitch, an affiliated Jewish organization, had won federal court rulings beginning in 1986 allowing the menorah display. That opened the way for several Ku Klux Klan factions to obtain permits to erect 10-foot-tall crosses on the square.

When protesters repeatedly toppled those crosses, the city was forced to assign extra police officers to protect the displays. Finally, the city tried to ban all displays by private groups with the 2002 ordinance."