This is a preview of how your content will look on export. To export the complete content in DOC format, click the blue export button in the upper right corner of this page.
Class 6: Religious Displays and Religion in the Curriculum
  • 1 Lynch v. Donnelly

    1
    465 U.S. 668 (1984)
    2
    LYNCH, MAYOR OF PAWTUCKET, ET AL.
    v.
    DONNELLY, ET AL.
    3
    No. 82-1256.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued October 4, 1983
    5
    Decided March 5, 1984
    6
    CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
    7

    [670] William F. McMahon argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Richard P. McMahon and Spencer W. Viner.

    8

    Solicitor General Lee argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General McGrath, Deputy Solicitor General Bator, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kuhl, and Kathryn A. Oberly.

    9

    Amato A. DeLuca argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Sandra A. Blanding, Burt Neuborne, E. Richard Larson, and Norman Dorsen.[1]

    10

    Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Jewish Committee et al. by Samuel Rabinove; and for the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith et al. by Justin J. Finger, Alan Dershowitz, Meyer Eisenberg, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, Nathan Z. Dershowitz, and Marc Stern.

    11
    CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
    12

    We granted certiorari to decide whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits a municipality [671] from including a creche, or Nativity scene, in its annual Christmas display.

    13
    I
    14

    Each year, in cooperation with the downtown retail merchants' association, the city of Pawtucket, R. I., erects a Christmas display as part of its observance of the Christmas holiday season. The display is situated in a park owned by a nonprofit organization and located in the heart of the shopping district. The display is essentially like those to be found in hundreds of towns or cities across the Nation — often on public grounds — during the Christmas season. The Pawtucket display comprises many of the figures and decorations traditionally associated with Christmas, including, among other things, a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cutout figures representing such characters as a clown, an elephant, and a teddy bear, hundreds of colored lights, a large banner that reads "SEASONS GREETINGS," and the creche at issue here. All components of this display are owned by the city.

    15

    The creche, which has been included in the display for 40 or more years, consists of the traditional figures, including the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, kings, and animals, all ranging in height from 5" to 5'. In 1973, when the present creche was acquired, it cost the city $1,365; it now is valued at $200. The erection and dismantling of the creche costs the city about $20 per year; nominal expenses are incurred in lighting the creche. No money has been expended on its maintenance for the past 10 years.

    16

    Respondents, Pawtucket residents and individual members of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the affiliate itself, brought this action in the United States District Court for Rhode Island, challenging the city's inclusion of the creche in the annual display. The District Court held that the city's inclusion of the creche in the display violates the Establishment Clause, 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1178 (1981), which is binding on the states through the [672] Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court found that, by including the creche in the Christmas display, the city has "tried to endorse and promulgate religious beliefs," id., at 1173, and that "erection of the creche has the real and substantial effect of affiliating the City with the Christian beliefs that the creche represents." Id., at 1177. This "appearance of official sponsorship," it believed, "confers more than a remote and incidental benefit on Christianity." Id., at 1178. Last, although the court acknowledged the absence of administrative entanglement, it found that excessive entanglement has been fostered as a result of the political divisiveness of including the creche in the celebration. Id., at 1179-1180. The city was permanently enjoined from including the creche in the display.

    17

    A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. 691 F. 2d 1029 (1982). We granted certiorari, 460 U. S. 1080 (1983), and we reverse.

    18
    II
    19
    A
    20

    This Court has explained that the purpose of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment is

    21
    "to prevent, as far as possible, the intrusion of either [the church or the state] into the precincts of the other." Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 614 (1971).
    22

    At the same time, however, the Court has recognized that

    23
    "total separation is not possible in an absolute sense. Some relationship between government and religious organizations is inevitable." Ibid.
    24

    In every Establishment Clause case, we must reconcile the inescapable tension between the objective of preventing unnecessary intrusion of either the church or the state upon the other, and the reality that, as the Court has so often noted, total separation of the two is not possible.

    25

    [673] The Court has sometimes described the Religion Clauses as erecting a "wall" between church and state, see, e. g., Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 18 (1947). The concept of a "wall" of separation is a useful figure of speech probably deriving from views of Thomas Jefferson.[2] The metaphor has served as a reminder that the Establishment Clause forbids an established church or anything approaching it. But the metaphor itself is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of the relationship that in fact exists between church and state.

    26

    No significant segment of our society and no institution within it can exist in a vacuum or in total or absolute isolation from all the other parts, much less from government. "It has never been thought either possible or desirable to enforce a regime of total separation . . . ." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 760 (1973). Nor does the Constitution require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any. See, e. g., Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 314, 315 (1952); Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203, 211 (1948). Anything less would require the "callous indifference" we have said was never intended by the Establishment Clause. Zorach, supra, at 314. Indeed, we have observed, such hostility would bring us into "war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment's guaranty of the free exercise of religion." McCollum, supra, at 211-212.

    27
    B
    28

    The Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause has comported with what history reveals was the contemporaneous understanding of its guarantees. A significant example [674] of the contemporaneous understanding of that Clause is found in the events of the first week of the First Session of the First Congress in 1789. In the very week that Congress approved the Establishment Clause as part of the Bill of Rights for submission to the states, it enacted legislation providing for paid Chaplains for the House and Senate. In Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), we noted that 17 Members of that First Congress had been Delegates to the Constitutional Convention where freedom of speech, press, and religion and antagonism toward an established church were subjects of frequent discussion. We saw no conflict with the Establishment Clause when Nebraska employed members of the clergy as official legislative Chaplains to give opening prayers at sessions of the state legislature. Id., at 791.

    29

    The interpretation of the Establishment Clause by Congress in 1789 takes on special significance in light of the Court's emphasis that the First Congress

    30
    "was a Congress whose constitutional decisions have always been regarded, as they should be regarded, as of the greatest weight in the interpretation of that fundamental instument," Myers v. United States, 272 U. S. 52, 174-175 (1926).
    31

    It is clear that neither the 17 draftsmen of the Constitution who were Members of the First Congress, nor the Congress of 1789, saw any establishment problem in the employment of congressional Chaplains to offer daily prayers in the Congress, a practice that has continued for nearly two centuries. It would be difficult to identify a more striking example of the accommodation of religious belief intended by the Framers.

    32
    C
    33

    There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789. Seldom in our opinions was this more affirmatively expressed than in Justice Douglas' opinion for the Court validating a program allowing release of [675] public school students from classes to attend off-campus religious exercises. Rejecting a claim that the program violated the Establishment Clause, the Court asserted pointedly:

    34
    "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." Zorach v. Clauson, supra, at 313.
    35

    See also Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 213 (1963).

    36

    Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and contemporary leaders. Beginning in the early colonial period long before Independence, a day of Thanksgiving was celebrated as a religious holiday to give thanks for the bounties of Nature as gifts from God. President Washington and his successors proclaimed Thanksgiving, with all its religious overtones, a day of national celebration[3] and Congress made it a National Holiday more than a century ago. Ch. 167, 16 Stat. 168. That holiday has not lost its theme of expressing thanks for Divine aid[4] any more than has Christmas lost its religious significance.

    37

    [676] Executive Orders and other official announcements of Presidents and of the Congress have proclaimed both Christmas and Thanksgiving National Holidays in religious terms. And, by Acts of Congress, it has long been the practice that federal employees are released from duties on these National Holidays, while being paid from the same public revenues that provide the compensation of the Chaplains of the Senate and the House and the military services. See J. Res. 5, 23 Stat. 516. Thus, it is clear that Government has long recognized — indeed it has subsidized — holidays with religious significance.

    38

    Other examples of reference to our religious heritage are found in the statutorily prescribed national motto "In God We Trust," 36 U. S. C. § 186, which Congress and the President mandated for our currency, see 31 U. S. C. § 5112(d)(1) (1982 ed.), and in the language "One nation under God," as part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. That pledge is recited by many thousands of public school children — and adults — every year.

    39

    Art galleries supported by public revenues display religious paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries, predominantly inspired by one religious faith. The National Gallery in [677] Washington, maintained with Government support, for example, has long exhibited masterpieces with religious messages, notably the Last Supper, and paintings depicting the Birth of Christ, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, among many others with explicit Christian themes and messages.[5] The very chamber in which oral arguments on this case were heard is decorated with a notable and permanent — not seasonal — symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments. Congress has long provided chapels in the Capitol for religious worship and meditation.

    40

    There are countless other illustrations of the Government's acknowledgment of our religious heritage and governmental sponsorship of graphic manifestations of that heritage. Congress has directed the President to proclaim a National Day of Prayer each year "on which [day] the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals." 36 U. S. C. § 169h. Our Presidents have repeatedly issued such Proclamations.[6] Presidential Proclamations and messages have also issued to commemorate Jewish Heritage Week, Presidential Proclamation No. 4844, 3 CFR 30 (1982), and the Jewish High Holy Days, 17 Weekly Comp. of Pres. Doc. 1058 (1981). One cannot look at even this brief resume without finding that our history is pervaded by expressions of religious beliefs such as are found in Zorach. Equally pervasive is the evidence of accommodation of all faiths and all forms of religious expression, and hostility toward none. Through this accommodation, [678] as Justice Douglas observed, governmental action has "follow[ed] the best of our traditions" and "respect[ed] the religious nature of our people." 343 U. S., at 314.

    41
    III
    42

    This history may help explain why the Court consistently has declined to take a rigid, absolutist view of the Establishment Clause. We have refused "to construe the Religion Clauses with a literalness that would undermine the ultimate constitutional objective as illuminated by history." Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 664, 671 (1970) (emphasis added). In our modern, complex society, whose traditions and constitutional underpinnings rest on and encourage diversity and pluralism in all areas, an absolutist approach in applying the Establishment Clause is simplistic and has been uniformly rejected by the Court.

    43

    Rather than mechanically invalidating all governmental conduct or statutes that confer benefits or give special recognition to religion in general or to one faith — as an absolutist approach would dictate — the Court has scrutinized challenged legislation or official conduct to determine whether, in reality, it establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so. See Walz, supra, at 669. Joseph Story wrote a century and a half ago:

    44
    "The real object of the [First] Amendment was . . . to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government." 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 728 (1833).
    45

    In each case, the inquiry calls for line-drawing; no fixed, per se rule can be framed. The Establishment Clause like the Due Process Clauses is not a precise, detailed provision in a legal code capable of ready application. The purpose of the Establishment Clause "was to state an objective, not to write a statute." Walz, supra, at 668. The line between permissible relationships and those barred by the Clause can no [679] more be straight and unwavering than due process can be defined in a single stroke or phrase or test. The Clause erects a "blurred, indistinct, and variable barrier depending on all the circumstances of a particular relationship." Lemon, 403 U. S., at 614.

    46

    In the line-drawing process we have often found it useful to inquire whether the challenged law or conduct has a secular purpose, whether its principal or primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion, and whether it creates an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon, supra. But, we have repeatedly emphasized our unwillingness to be confined to any single test or criterion in this sensitive area. See, e. g., Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672, 677-678 (1971); Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 773. In two cases, the Court did not even apply the Lemon "test." We did not, for example, consider that analysis relevant in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983). Nor did we find Lemon useful in Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228 (1982), where there was substantial evidence of overt discrimination against a particular church.

    47

    In this case, the focus of our inquiry must be on the creche in the context of the Christmas season. See, e. g., Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam); Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963). In Stone, for example, we invalidated a state statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments on public classroom walls. But the Court carefully pointed out that the Commandments were posted purely as a religious admonition, not "integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like." 449 U. S., at 42. Similarly, in Abington, although the Court struck down the practices in two States requiring daily Bible readings in public schools, it specifically noted that nothing in the Court's holding was intended to "indicat[e] that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently [680] with the First Amendment." 374 U. S., at 225. Focus exclusively on the religious component of any activity would inevitably lead to its invalidation under the Establishment Clause.

    48

    The Court has invalidated legislation or governmental action on the ground that a secular purpose was lacking, but only when it has concluded there was no question that the statute or activity was motivated wholly by religious considerations. See, e. g., Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 107-109 (1968); Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 223-224; Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 424-425 (1962). Even where the benefits to religion were substantial, as in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1 (1947); Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U. S. 236 (1968); Walz, supra; and Tilton, supra, we saw a secular purpose and no conflict with the Establishment Clause. Cf. Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982).

    49

    The District Court inferred from the religious nature of the creche that the city has no secular purpose for the display. In so doing, it rejected the city's claim that its reasons for including the creche are essentially the same as its reasons for sponsoring the display as a whole. The District Court plainly erred by focusing almost exclusively on the creche. When viewed in the proper context of the Christmas Holiday season, it is apparent that, on this record, there is insufficient evidence to establish that the inclusion of the creche is a purposeful or surreptitious effort to express some kind of subtle governmental advocacy of a particular religious message. In a pluralistic society a variety of motives and purposes are implicated. The city, like the Congresses and Presidents, however, has principally taken note of a significant historical religious event long celebrated in the Western World. The creche in the display depicts the historical origins of this traditional event long recognized as a National Holiday. See Allen v. Hickel, 138 U. S. App. D. C. 31, 424 F. 2d 944 [681] (1970); Citizens Concerned for Separation of Church and State v. City and County of Denver, 526 F. Supp. 1310 (Colo. 1981).

    50

    The narrow question is whether there is a secular purpose for Pawtucket's display of the creche. The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday and to depict the origins of that Holiday. These are legitimate secular purposes.[7] The District Court's inference, drawn from the religious nature of the creche, that the city has no secular purpose was, on this record, clearly erroneous.[8]

    51

    The District Court found that the primary effect of including the creche is to confer a substantial and impermissible benefit on religion in general and on the Christian faith in particular. Comparisons of the relative benefits to religion of different forms of governmental support are elusive and difficult to make. But to conclude that the primary effect of including the creche is to advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause would require that we view it as more beneficial to and more an endorsement of religion, for example, than expenditure of large sums of public money for textbooks supplied throughout the country to students attending church-sponsored schools, Board of Education v. Allen, supra;[9] expenditure of public funds for transportation of [682] students to church-sponsored schools, Everson v. Board of Education, supra;[10] federal grants for college buildings of church-sponsored institutions of higher education combining secular and religious education, Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672 (1971);[11] noncategorical grants to church-sponsored colleges and universities, Roemer v. Board of Public Works, 426 U. S. 736 (1976); and the tax exemptions for church properties sanctioned in Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S. 664 (1970). It would also require that we view it as more of an endorsement of religion than the Sunday Closing Laws upheld in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961);[12] the release time program for religious training in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952); and the legislative prayers upheld in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983).

    52

    We are unable to discern a greater aid to religion deriving from inclusion of the creche than from these benefits and endorsements previously held not violative of the Establishment Clause. What was said about the legislative prayers in Marsh, supra, at 792, and implied about the Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan is true of the city's inclusion of the creche: its "reason or effect merely happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some . . . religions." See McGowan, supra, at 442.

    53

    This case differs significantly from Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., supra, and McCollum, where religion was substantially [683] aided. In Grendel's Den, important governmental power — a licensing veto authority — had been vested in churches. In McCollum, government had made religious instruction available in public school classrooms; the State had not only used the public school buildings for the teaching of religion, it had "afford[ed] sectarian groups an invaluable aid. . . [by] provid[ing] pupils for their religious classes through use of the State's compulsory public school machinery." 333 U. S., at 212. No comparable benefit to religion is discernible here.

    54

    The dissent asserts some observers may perceive that the city has aligned itself with the Christian faith by including a Christian symbol in its display and that this serves to advance religion. We can assume, arguendo, that the display advances religion in a sense; but our precedents plainly contemplate that on occasion some advancement of religion will result from governmental action. The Court has made it abundantly clear, however, that "not every law that confers an `indirect,' `remote,' or `incidental' benefit upon [religion] is, for that reason alone, constitutionally invalid." Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 771; see also Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 273 (1981). Here, whatever benefit there is to one faith or religion or to all religions, is indirect, remote, and incidental; display of the creche is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the Congressional and Executive recognition of the origins of the Holiday itself as "Christ's Mass," or the exhibition of literally hundreds of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums.

    55

    The District Court found that there had been no administrative entanglement between religion and state resulting from the city's ownership and use of the creche. 525 F. Supp., at 1179. But it went on to hold that some political divisiveness was engendered by this litigation. Coupled with its finding of an impermissible sectarian purpose and effect, this persuaded the court that there was "excessive entanglement." The Court of Appeals expressly declined to [684] accept the District Court's finding that inclusion of the creche has caused political divisiveness along religious lines, and noted that this Court has never held that political divisiveness alone was sufficient to invalidate government conduct.

    56

    Entanglement is a question of kind and degree. In this case, however, there is no reason to disturb the District Court's finding on the absence of administrative entanglement. There is no evidence of contact with church authorities concerning the content or design of the exhibit prior to or since Pawtucket's purchase of the creche. No expenditures for maintenance of the creche have been necessary; and since the city owns the creche, now valued at $200, the tangible material it contributes is de minimis. In many respects the display requires far less ongoing, day-to-day interaction between church and state than religious paintings in public galleries. There is nothing here, of course, like the "comprehensive, discriminating, and continuing state surveillance" or the "enduring entanglement" present in Lemon, 403 U. S., at 619-622.

    57

    The Court of Appeals correctly observed that this Court has not held that political divisiveness alone can serve to invalidate otherwise permissible conduct. And we decline to so hold today. This case does not involve a direct subsidy to church-sponsored schools or colleges, or other religious institutions, and hence no inquiry into potential political divisiveness is even called for, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 403-404, n. 11 (1983). In any event, apart from this litigation there is no evidence of political friction or divisiveness over the creche in the 40-year history of Pawtucket's Christmas celebration. The District Court stated that the inclusion of the creche for the 40-years has been "marked by no apparent dissension" and that the display has had a "calm history." 525 F. Supp., at 1179. Curiously, it went on to hold that the political divisiveness engendered by this lawsuit was evidence of excessive entanglement. A litigant cannot, by the very act of commencing a lawsuit, however, create the appearance [685] of divisiveness and then exploit it as evidence of entanglement.

    58

    We are satisfied that the city has a secular purpose for including the creche, that the city has not impermissibly advanced religion, and that including the creche does not create excessive entanglement between religion and government.

    59
    IV
    60

    JUSTICE BRENNAN describes the creche as a "re-creation of an event that lies at the heart of Christian faith," post, at 711. The creche, like a painting, is passive; admittedly it is a reminder of the origins of Christmas. Even the traditional, purely secular displays extant at Christmas, with or without a creche, would inevitably recall the religious nature of the Holiday. The display engenders a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season. The creche may well have special meaning to those whose faith includes the celebration of religious Masses, but none who sense the origins of the Christmas celebration would fail to be aware of its religious implications. That the display brings people into the central city, and serves commercial interests and benefits merchants and their employees, does not, as the dissent points out, determine the character of the display. That a prayer invoking Divine guidance in Congress is preceded and followed by debate and partisan conflict over taxes, budgets, national defense, and myriad mundane subjects, for example, has never been thought to demean or taint the sacredness of the invocation.[13]

    61

    Of course the creche is identified with one religious faith but no more so than the examples we have set out from prior cases in which we found no conflict with the Establishment [686] Clause. See, e. g., McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961); Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983). It would be ironic, however, if the inclusion of a single symbol of a particular historic religious event, as part of a celebration acknowledged in the Western World for 20 centuries, and in this country by the people, by the Executive Branch, by the Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries, would so "taint" the city's exhibit as to render it violative of the Establishment Clause. To forbid the use of this one passive symbol — the creche — at the very time people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools and other public places, and while the Congress and legislatures open sessions with prayers by paid chaplains, would be a stilted overreaction contrary to our history and to our holdings. If the presence of the creche in this display violates the Establishment Clause, a host of other forms of taking official note of Christmas, and of our religious heritage, are equally offensive to the Constitution.

    62

    The Court has acknowledged that the "fears and political problems" that gave rise to the Religion Clauses in the 18th century are of far less concern today. Everson, 330 U. S., at 8. We are unable to perceive the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Rome, or other powerful religious leaders behind every public acknowledgment of the religious heritage long officially recognized by the three constitutional branches of government. Any notion that these symbols pose a real danger of establishment of a state church is farfetched indeed.

    63
    V
    64

    That this Court has been alert to the constitutionally expressed opposition to the establishment of religion is shown in numerous holdings striking down statutes or programs as violative of the Establishment Clause. See, e. g., Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203 (1948); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968); Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra; Levitt v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty, 413 U. S. 472 (1973); Committee [687A] for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756 (1973); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349 (1975); and Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980). The most recent example of this careful scrutiny is found in the case invalidating a municipal ordinance granting to a church a virtual veto power over the licensing of liquor establishments near the church. Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982). Taken together these cases abundantly demonstrate the Court's concern to protect the genuine objectives of the Establishment Clause. It is far too late in the day to impose a crabbed reading of the Clause on the country.

    65
    VI
    66

    We hold that, notwithstanding the religious significance of the creche, the city of Pawtucket has not violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[14] Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

    67

    It is so ordered.

    68
    [687B] JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.
    69

    I concur in the opinion of the Court. I write separately to suggest a clarification of our Establishment Clause doctrine. The suggested approach leads to the same result in this case as that taken by the Court, and the Court's opinion, as I read it, is consistent with my analysis.

    70
    I
    71

    The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive [688] entanglement with religious institutions, which may interfere with the independence of the institutions, give the institutions access to government or governmental powers not fully shared by nonadherents of the religion, and foster the creation of political constituencies defined along religious lines. E. g., Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982). The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message. See generally Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963).

    72

    Our prior cases have used the three-part test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612-613 (1971), as a guide to detecting these two forms of unconstitutional government action.[15] It has never been entirely clear, however, [689] how the three parts of the test relate to the principles enshrined in the Establishment Clause. Focusing on institutional entanglement and on endorsement or disapproval of religion clarifies the Lemon test as an analytical device.

    73
    II
    74

    In this case, as even the District Court found, there is no institutional entanglement. Nevertheless, the respondents contend that the political divisiveness caused by Pawtucket's display of its creche violates the excessive-entanglement prong of the Lemon test. The Court's opinion follows the suggestion in Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 403-404, n. 11 (1983), and concludes that "no inquiry into potential political divisiveness is even called for" in this case. Ante, at 684. In my view, political divisiveness along religious lines should not be an independent test of constitutionality.

    75

    Although several of our cases have discussed political divisiveness under the entanglement prong of Lemon, see, e. g., Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 796 (1973); Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 623, we have never relied on divisiveness as an independent ground for holding a government practice unconstitutional. Guessing the potential for political divisiveness inherent in a government practice is simply too speculative an enterprise, in part because the existence of the litigation, as this case illustrates, itself may affect the political response to the government practice. Political divisiveness is admittedly an evil addressed by the Establishment Clause. Its existence may be evidence that institutional entanglement is excessive or that a government practice is perceived as an endorsement of religion. But the constitutional inquiry should focus ultimately on the character of the government activity that might cause such divisiveness, not on the divisiveness itself. The entanglement prong of the Lemon test is properly limited to institutional entanglement.

    76
    [690] III
    77

    The central issue in this case is whether Pawtucket has endorsed Christianity by its display of the creche. To answer that question, we must examine both what Pawtucket intended to communicate in displaying the creche and what message the city's display actually conveyed. The purpose and effect prongs of the Lemon test represent these two aspects of the meaning of the city's action.

    78

    The meaning of a statement to its audience depends both on the intention of the speaker and on the "objective" meaning of the statement in the community. Some listeners need not rely solely on the words themselves in discerning the speaker's intent: they can judge the intent by, for example, examining the context of the statement or asking questions of the speaker. Other listeners do not have or will not seek access to such evidence of intent. They will rely instead on the words themselves; for them the message actually conveyed may be something not actually intended. If the audience is large, as it always is when government "speaks" by word or deed, some portion of the audience will inevitably receive a message determined by the "objective" content of the statement, and some portion will inevitably receive the intended message. Examination of both the subjective and the objective components of the message communicated by a government action is therefore necessary to determine whether the action carries a forbidden meaning.

    79

    The purpose prong of the Lemon test asks whether government's actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion. The effect prong asks whether, irrespective of government's actual purpose, the practice under review in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval. An affirmative answer to either question should render the challenged practice invalid.

    80
    A
    81

    The purpose prong of the Lemon test requires that a government activity have a secular purpose. That requirement [691] is not satisfied, however, by the mere existence of some secular purpose, however dominated by religious purposes. In Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980), for example, the Court held that posting copies of the Ten Commandments in schools violated the purpose prong of the Lemon test, yet the State plainly had some secular objectives, such as instilling most of the values of the Ten Commandments and illustrating their connection to our legal system, but see 449 U. S., at 41. See also Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 223-224. The proper inquiry under the purpose prong of Lemon, I submit, is whether the government intends to convey a message of endorsement or disapproval of religion.

    82

    Applying that formulation to this case, I would find that Pawtucket did not intend to convey any message of endorsement of Christianity or disapproval of non-Christian religions. The evident purpose of including the creche in the larger display was not promotion of the religious content of the creche but celebration of the public holiday through its traditional symbols. Celebration of public holidays, which have cultural significance even if they also have religious aspects, is a legitimate secular purpose.

    83

    The District Court's finding that the display of the creche had no secular purpose was based on erroneous reasoning. The District Court believed that it should ascertain the city's purpose in displaying the creche separate and apart from the general purpose in setting up the display. It also found that, because the tradition-celebrating purpose was suspect in the court's eyes, the city's use of an unarguably religious symbol "raises an inference" of intent to endorse. When viewed in light of correct legal principles, the District Court's finding of unlawful purpose was clearly erroneous.

    84
    B
    85

    Focusing on the evil of government endorsement or disapproval of religion makes clear that the effect prong of the Lemon test is properly interpreted not to require invalidation of a government practice merely because it in fact causes, [692] even as a primary effect, advancement or inhibition of religion. The laws upheld in Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S. 664 (1970) (tax exemption for religious, educational, and charitable organizations), in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961) (mandatory Sunday closing law), and in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952) (released time from school for off-campus religious instruction), had such effects, but they did not violate the Establishment Clause. What is crucial is that a government practice not have the effect of communicating a message of government endorsement or disapproval of religion. It is only practices having that effect, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that make religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community.

    86

    Pawtucket's display of its creche, I believe, does not communicate a message that the government intends to endorse the Christian beliefs represented by the creche. Although the religious and indeed sectarian significance of the creche, as the District Court found, is not neutralized by the setting, the overall holiday setting changes what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display — as a typical museum setting, though not neutralizing the religious content of a religious painting, negates any message of endorsement of that content. The display celebrates a public holiday, and no one contends that declaration of that holiday is understood to be an endorsement of religion. The holiday itself has very strong secular components and traditions. Government celebration of the holiday, which is extremely common, generally is not understood to endorse the religious content of the holiday, just as government celebration of Thanksgiving is not so understood. The creche is a traditional symbol of the holiday that is very commonly displayed along with purely secular symbols, as it was in Pawtucket.

    87

    These features combine to make the government's display of the creche in this particular physical setting no more an endorsement of religion than such governmental "acknowledgements" [693] of religion as legislative prayers of the type approved in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), government declaration of Thanksgiving as a public holiday, printing of "In God We Trust" on coins, and opening court sessions with "God save the United States and this honorable court." Those government acknowledgments of religion serve, in the only ways reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society. For that reason, and because of their history and ubiquity, those practices are not understood as conveying government approval of particular religious beliefs. The display of the creche likewise serves a secular purpose — celebration of a public holiday with traditional symbols. It cannot fairly be understood to convey a message of government endorsement of religion. It is significant in this regard that the creche display apparently caused no political divisiveness prior to the filing of this lawsuit, although Pawtucket had incorporated the creche in its annual Christmas display for some years. For these reasons, I conclude that Pawtucket's display of the creche does not have the effect of communicating endorsement of Christianity.

    88

    The District Court's subsidiary findings on the effect test are consistent with this conclusion. The court found as facts that the creche has a religious content, that it would not be seen as an insignificant part of the display, that its religious content is not neutralized by the setting, that the display is celebratory and not instructional, and that the city did not seek to counteract any possible religious message. These findings do not imply that the creche communicates government approval of Christianity. The District Court also found, however, that the government was understood to place its imprimatur on the religious content of the creche. But whether a government activity communicates endorsement of religion is not a question of simple historical fact. [694] Although evidentiary submissions may help answer it, the question is, like the question whether racial or sex-based classifications communicate an invidious message, in large part a legal question to be answered on the basis of judicial interpretation of social facts. The District Court's conclusion concerning the effect of Pawtucket's display of its creche was in error as a matter of law.

    89
    IV
    90

    Every government practice must be judged in its unique circumstances to determine whether it constitutes an endorsement or disapproval of religion. In making that determination, courts must keep in mind both the fundamental place held by the Establishment Clause in our constitutional scheme and the myriad, subtle ways in which Establishment Clause values can be eroded. Government practices that purport to celebrate or acknowledge events with religious significance must be subjected to careful judicial scrutiny.

    91

    The city of Pawtucket is alleged to have violated the Establishment Clause by endorsing the Christian beliefs represented by the creche included in its Christmas display. Giving the challenged practice the careful scrutiny it deserves, I cannot say that the particular creche display at issue in this case was intended to endorse or had the effect of endorsing Christianity. I agree with the Court that the judgment below must be reversed.

    92
    JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, dissenting.
    93

    The principles announced in the compact phrases of the Religion Clauses have, as the Court today reminds us, ante, at 678-679, proved difficult to apply. Faced with that uncertainty, the Court properly looks for guidance to the settled test announced in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), for assessing whether a challenged governmental practice involves an impermissible step toward the establishment of religion. Ante, at 679. Applying that test to this case, the [695] Court reaches an essentially narrow result which turns largely upon the particular holiday context in which the city of Pawtucket's nativity scene appeared. The Court's decision implicitly leaves open questions concerning the constitutionality of the public display on public property of a creche standing alone, or the public display of other distinctively religious symbols such as a cross.[16] Despite the narrow contours of the Court's opinion, our precedents in my view compel the holding that Pawtucket's inclusion of a life-sized display depicting the biblical description of the birth of Christ as part of its annual Christmas celebration is unconstitutional. Nothing in the history of such practices or the setting in which the city's creche is presented obscures or diminishes the plain fact that Pawtucket's action amounts to an impermissible governmental endorsement of a particular faith.

    94
    I
    95

    Last Term, I expressed the hope that the Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), would prove to be only a single, aberrant departure from our settled method [696] of analyzing Establishment Clause cases. Id., at 796 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). That the Court today returns to the settled analysis of our prior cases gratifies that hope. At the same time, the Court's less-than-vigorous application of the Lemon test suggests that its commitment to those standards may only be superficial.[17] After reviewing the Court's opinion, I am convinced that this case appears hard not because the principles of decision are obscure, but because the Christmas holiday seems so familiar and agreeable. Although the [697] Court's reluctance to disturb a community's chosen method of celebrating such an agreeable holiday is understandable, that cannot justify the Court's departure from controlling precedent. In my view, Pawtucket's maintenance and display at public expense of a symbol as distinctively sectarian as a creche simply cannot be squared with our prior cases. And it is plainly contrary to the purposes and values of the Establishment Clause to pretend, as the Court does, that the otherwise secular setting of Pawtucket's nativity scene dilutes in some fashion the creche's singular religiosity, or that the city's annual display reflects nothing more than an "acknowledgment" of our shared national heritage. Neither the character of the Christmas holiday itself, nor our heritage of religious expression supports this result. Indeed, our remarkable and precious religious diversity as a Nation, see Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 495 (1961); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 240-241 (1963) (BRENNAN, J., concurring), which the Establishment Clause seeks to protect, runs directly counter to today's decision.

    96
    A
    97

    As we have sought to meet new problems arising under the Establishment Clause, our decisions, with few exceptions, have demanded that a challenged governmental practice satisfy the following criteria:

    98
    "First, the [practice] must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, [it] must not foster `an excessive government entanglement with religion.' " Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S., at 612-613 (citations omitted).[18]
    99

    [698] This well-defined three-part test expresses the essential concerns animating the Establishment Clause. Thus, the test is designed to ensure that the organs of government remain strictly separate and apart from religious affairs, for "a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion." Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 431 (1962). And it seeks to guarantee that government maintains a position of neutrality with respect to religion and neither advances nor inhibits the promulgation and practice of religious beliefs. Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1, 15 (1947) ("Neither [a State nor the Federal Government] can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another"); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 103-104 (1968); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 792-793 (1973). In this regard, we must be alert in our examination of any challenged practice not only for an official establishment of religion, but also for those other evils at which the Clause was aimed — "`sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity.'" Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 772 (quoting Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S. 664, 668 (1970)).

    100

    Applying the three-part test to Pawtucket's creche, I am persuaded that the city's inclusion of the creche in its Christmas display simply does not reflect a "clearly secular . . . purpose." Nyquist, supra, at 773. Unlike the typical case in which the record reveals some contemporaneous expression of a clear purpose to advance religion, see, e. g., Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, at 107-109; Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 423, or, conversely, a clear secular purpose, see, e. g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 613; Wolman v. Walter, [699] 433 U. S. 229, 236 (1977), here we have no explicit statement of purpose by Pawtucket's municipal government accompanying its decision to purchase, display, and maintain the creche. Governmental purpose may nevertheless be inferred. For instance, in Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41 (1980) (per curiam), this Court found, despite the State's avowed purpose of reminding schoolchildren of the secular application of the commands of the Decalogue, that the "preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature." In the present case, the city claims that its purposes were exclusively secular. Pawtucket sought, according to this view, only to participate in the celebration of a national holiday and to attract people to the downtown area in order to promote pre-Christmas retail sales and to help engender the spirit of goodwill and neighborliness commonly associated with the Christmas season. Brief for Petitioners 29.

    101

    Despite these assertions, two compelling aspects of this case indicate that our generally prudent "reluctance to attribute unconstitutional motives" to a governmental body, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 394 (1983), should be overcome. First, as was true in Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116, 123-124 (1982), all of Pawtucket's "valid secular objectives can be readily accomplished by other means."[19] Plainly, the city's interest in celebrating the holiday and in promoting both retail sales and goodwill are fully served by the elaborate display of Santa Claus, reindeer, and wishing wells that are already a part of Pawtucket's annual Christmas [700] display.[20] More importantly, the nativity scene, unlike every other element of the Hodgson Park display, reflects a sectarian exclusivity that the avowed purposes of celebrating the holiday season and promoting retail commerce simply do not encompass. To be found constitutional, Pawtucket's seasonal celebration must at least be nondenominational and not serve to promote religion. The inclusion of a distinctively religious element like the creche, however, demonstrates that a narrower sectarian purpose lay behind the decision to include a nativity scene. That the creche retained this religious character for the people and municipal government of Pawtucket is suggested by the Mayor's testimony at trial in which he stated that for him, as well as others in the city, the effort to eliminate the nativity scene from Pawtucket's Christmas celebration "is a step towards establishing another religion, non-religion that it may be." App. 100.[21] Plainly, the city and its leaders understood that the inclusion of the creche in its display would serve the wholly religious purpose [701] of "keep[ing] `Christ in Christmas.' " 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1173 (RI 1981). From this record, therefore, it is impossible to say with the kind of confidence that was possible in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 445 (1961), that a wholly secular goal predominates.

    102

    The "primary effect" of including a nativity scene in the city's display is, as the District Court found, to place the government's imprimatur of approval on the particular religious beliefs exemplified by the creche. Those who believe in the message of the nativity receive the unique and exclusive benefit of public recognition and approval of their views. For many, the city's decision to include the creche as part of its extensive and costly efforts to celebrate Christmas can only mean that the prestige of the government has been conferred on the beliefs associated with the creche, thereby providing "a significant symbolic benefit to religion . . . ." Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., supra, at 125-126. The effect on minority religious groups, as well as on those who may reject all religion, is to convey the message that their views are not similarly worthy of public recognition nor entitled to public support.[22] It was precisely this sort of religious chauvinism that the Establishment Clause was intended forever to prohibit. In this case, as in Engel v. Vitale, "[w]hen the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind [702] a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain." 370 U. S., at 431. Our decision in Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981), rests upon the same principle. There the Court noted that a state university policy of "equal access" for both secular and religious groups would "not confer any imprimatur of state approval" on the religious groups permitted to use the facilities because "a broad spectrum of groups" would be served and there was no evidence that religious groups would dominate the forum. Id., at 274. Here, by contrast, Pawtucket itself owns the creche and instead of extending similar attention to a "broad spectrum" of religious and secular groups, it has singled out Christianity for special treatment.

    103

    Finally, it is evident that Pawtucket's inclusion of a creche as part of its annual Christmas display does pose a significant threat of fostering "excessive entanglement." As the Court notes, ante, at 683, the District Court found no administrative entanglement in this case, primarily because the city had been able to administer the annual display without extensive consultation with religious officials. See 525 F. Supp., at 1179. Of course, there is no reason to disturb that finding, but it is worth noting that after today's decision, administrative entanglements may well develop. Jews and other non-Christian groups, prompted perhaps by the Mayor's remark that he will include a Menorah in future displays,[23] can be expected to press government for inclusion of their symbols, and faced with such requests, government will have to become involved in accommodating the various demands. Cf. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 796 ("competing efforts [by religious groups] to gain or maintain the support of government" may "occasio[n] considerable civil strife"). More importantly, although no political divisiveness was apparent in Pawtucket [703] prior to the filing of respondents' lawsuit, that act, as the District Court found, unleashed powerful emotional reactions which divided the city along religious lines. 525 F. Supp., at 1180. The fact that calm had prevailed prior to this suit does not immediately suggest the absence of any division on the point for, as the District Court observed, the quiescence of those opposed to the creche may have reflected nothing more than their sense of futility in opposing the majority. Id., at 1179. Of course, the Court is correct to note that we have never held that the potential for divisiveness alone is sufficient to invalidate a challenged governmental practice; we have, nevertheless, repeatedly emphasized that "too close a proximity" between religious and civil authorities, Schempp, 374 U. S., at 259 (BRENNAN, J., concurring), may represent a "warning signal" that the values embodied in the Establishment Clause are at risk. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 798.[24] Furthermore, the Court should not blind itself to the fact that because communities [704] differ in religious composition, the controversy over whether local governments may adopt religious symbols will continue to fester. In many communities, non-Christian groups can be expected to combat practices similar to Pawtucket's; this will be so especially in areas where there are substantial non-Christian minorities.[25]

    104

    In sum, considering the District Court's careful findings of fact under the three-part analysis called for by our prior cases, I have no difficulty concluding that Pawtucket's display of the creche is unconstitutional.[26]

    105
    [705] B
    106

    The Court advances two principal arguments to support its conclusion that the Pawtucket creche satisfies the Lemon test. Neither is persuasive.

    107

    First. The Court, by focusing on the holiday "context" in which the nativity scene appeared, seeks to explain away the clear religious import of the creche and the findings of the District Court that most observers understood the creche as both a symbol of Christian beliefs and a symbol of the city's support for those beliefs. See ante, at 679-684; see also ante, at 694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). Thus, although the Court concedes that the city's inclusion of the nativity scene plainly serves "to depict the origins" of Christmas as a "significant historical religious event." ante, at 681, 680, and that the creche "is identified with one religious faith," ante, at 685, we are nevertheless expected to believe that Pawtucket's use of the creche does not signal the city's support for the sectarian symbolism that the nativity scene evokes. The effect of the creche, of course, must be gauged not only by its inherent religious [706] significance but also by the overall setting in which it appears. But it blinks reality to claim, as the Court does, that by including such a distinctively religious object as the creche in its Christmas display, Pawtucket has done no more than make use of a "traditional" symbol of the holiday, and has thereby purged the creche of its religious content and conferred only an "incidental and indirect" benefit on religion.

    108

    The Court's struggle to ignore the clear religious effect of the creche seems to me misguided for several reasons. In the first place, the city has positioned the creche in a central and highly visible location within the Hodgson Park display. The District Court's findings in this regard are unambiguous:

    109
    "[D]espite the small amount of ground covered by the creche, viewers would not regard the creche as an insignificant part of the display. It is an almost life sized tableau marked off by a white picket fence. Furthermore, its location lends the creche significance. The creche faces the Roosevelt Avenue bus stops and access stairs where the bulk of the display is placed. Moreover, the creche is near two of the most enticing parts of the display for children — Santa's house and the talking wishing well. Although the Court recognizes that one cannot see the creche from all possible vantage points, it is clear from the City's own photos that people standing at the two bus shelters and looking down at the display will see the creche centrally and prominently positioned." 525 F. Supp., at 1176-1177 (citations omitted; footnote omitted).
    110

    Moreover, the city has done nothing to disclaim government approval of the religious significance of the creche, to suggest that the creche represents only one religious symbol among many others that might be included in a seasonal display truly aimed at providing a wide catalog of ethnic and religious celebrations, or to disassociate itself from the religious content of the creche. In Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 225, we noted that reading aloud [707] from the Bible would be a permissible schoolroom exercise only if it was "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education" that would remove any message of governmental endorsement of religion. Similarly, when the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit approved the inclusion of a creche as part of a national "Pageant of Peace" on federal parkland adjacent to the White House, it did so on the express condition that the Government would erect "explanatory plaques" disclaiming any sponsorship of religious beliefs associated with the creche. Allen v. Morton, 161 U. S. App. D. C. 239, 241-242, 495 F. 2d 65, 67-68 (1973) (per curiam). In this case, by contrast, Pawtucket has made no effort whatever to provide a similar cautionary message.

    111

    Third, we have consistently acknowledged that an otherwise secular setting alone does not suffice to justify a governmental practice that has the effect of aiding religion. In Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 743 (1973), for instance, we observed that "[a]id normally may be thought to have a primary effect of advancing religion . . . when it [supports] a specifically religious activity in an otherwise substantially secular setting." The demonstrably secular context of public education, therefore, did not save the challenged practice of school prayer in Engel or in Schempp. Similarly, in Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672, 683 (1971), despite the generally secular thrust of the financing legislation under review, the Court unanimously struck down that aspect of the program which permitted church-related institutions eventually to assume total control over the use of buildings constructed with federal aid.[27]

    112

    [708] Finally, and most importantly, even in the context of Pawtucket's seasonal celebration, the creche retains a specifically Christian religious meaning. I refuse to accept the notion implicit in today's decision that non-Christians would find that the religious content of the creche is eliminated by the fact that it appears as part of the city's otherwise secular celebration of the Christmas holiday. The nativity scene is clearly distinct in its purpose and effect from the rest of the Hodgson Park display for the simple reason that it is the only one rooted in a biblical account of Christ's birth. It is the chief symbol of the characteristically Christian belief that a divine Savior was brought into the world and that the purpose of this miraculous birth was to illuminate a path toward salvation and redemption.[28] For Christians, that path is exclusive, precious, and holy. But for those who do not share these beliefs, the symbolic reenactment of the birth of a divine being who has been miraculously incarnated as a man stands as a dramatic reminder of their differences with Christian faith.[29] When government appears to sponsor such religiously [709] inspired views, we cannot say that the practice is " `so separate and so indisputably marked off from the religious function,'. . . that [it] may fairly be viewed as reflect[ing] a neutral posture toward religious institutions." Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 782 (quoting Everson, 330 U. S., at 18). To be so excluded on religious grounds by one's elected government is an insult and an injury that, until today, could not be countenanced by the Establishment Clause.

    113

    Second. The Court also attempts to justify the creche by entertaining a beguilingly simple, yet faulty syllogism. The Court begins by noting that government may recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday; the Court then asserts that the creche is nothing more than a traditional element of Christmas celebrations; and it concludes that the inclusion of a creche as part of a government's annual Christmas celebration is constitutionally permissible. See ante, at 680-683, 685-686; see also ante, at 692-694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). The Court apparently believes that once it finds that the designation of Christmas as a public holiday is constitutionally acceptable, it is then free to conclude that virtually every form of governmental association with the celebration of the holiday is also constitutional. The vice of this dangerously superficial argument is that it overlooks the fact that the Christmas holiday in our national culture contains both secular and sectarian elements.[30] To say that government may recognize the holiday's traditional, secular elements of [710] gift-giving, public festivities, and community spirit, does not mean that government may indiscriminately embrace the distinctively sectarian aspects of the holiday. Indeed, in its eagerness to approve the creche, the Court has advanced a rationale so simplistic that it would appear to allow the Mayor of Pawtucket to participate in the celebration of a Christmas Mass, since this would be just another unobjectionable way for the city to "celebrate the holiday." As is demonstrated below, the Court's logic is fundamentally flawed both because it obscures the reason why public designation of Christmas Day as a holiday is constitutionally acceptable, and blurs the distinction between the secular aspects of Christmas and its distinctively religious character, as exemplified by the creche.

    114

    When government decides to recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from preholiday activities. The Free Exercise Clause, of course, does not necessarily compel the government to provide this accommodation, but neither is the Establishment Clause offended by such a step. Cf. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952). Because it is clear that the celebration of Christmas has both secular and sectarian elements, it may well be that by taking note of the holiday, the government is simply seeking to serve the same kinds of wholly secular goals — for instance, promoting goodwill and a common day of rest — that were found to justify Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961).[31] If public officials go further and participate in the secular celebration [711] of Christmas — by, for example, decorating public places with such secular images as wreaths, garlands, or Santa Claus figures — they move closer to the limits of their constitutional power but nevertheless remain within the boundaries set by the Establishment Clause. But when those officials participate in or appear to endorse the distinctively religious elements of this otherwise secular event, they encroach upon First Amendment freedoms. For it is at that point that the government brings to the forefront the theological content of the holiday, and places the prestige, power, and financial support of a civil authority in the service of a particular faith.

    115

    The inclusion of a creche in Pawtucket's otherwise secular celebration of Christmas clearly violates these principles. Unlike such secular figures as Santa Claus, reindeer, and carolers, a nativity scene represents far more than a mere "traditional" symbol of Christmas. The essence of the creche's symbolic purpose and effect is to prompt the observer to experience a sense of simple awe and wonder appropriate to the contemplation of one of the central elements of Christian dogma — that God sent His Son into the world to be a Messiah.[32] Contrary to the Court's suggestion, the creche is far from a mere representation of a "particular historic religious event." Ante, at 686. It is, instead, best understood as a mystical re-creation of an event that lies at the heart of Christian faith.[33] To suggest, as the Court does, [712] that such a symbol is merely "traditional" and therefore no different from Santa's house or reindeer is not only offensive to those for whom the creche has profound significance,[34] but insulting to those who insist for religious or personal reasons that the story of Christ is in no sense a part of "history" nor an unavoidable element of our national "heritage."[35]

    116

    For these reasons, the creche in this context simply cannot be viewed as playing the same role that an ordinary museum display does. See ante, at 676-677, 683, 685. The Court seems to assume that prohibiting Pawtucket from displaying a creche would be tantamount to prohibiting a state college from including the Bible or Milton's Paradise Lost in a course on English literature. But in those cases the religiously inspired materials are being considered solely as literature. The purpose is plainly not to single out the particular religious beliefs that may have inspired the authors, but to see in these writings the outlines of a larger imaginative universe shared with other forms of literary expression.[36] The same may be said of a course devoted to the study of art; when the course turns to Gothic architecture, the emphasis is not on the religious beliefs which the cathedrals exalt, but rather upon the "aesthetic consequences of [such religious] thought."[37]

    117

    [713] In this case, by contrast, the creche plays no comparable secular role. Unlike the poetry of Paradise Lost which students in a literature course will seek to appreciate primarily for esthetic or historical reasons, the angels, shepherds, Magi, and infant of Pawtucket's nativity scene can only be viewed as symbols of a particular set of religious beliefs. It would be another matter if the creche were displayed in a museum setting, in the company of other religiously inspired artifacts, as an example, among many, of the symbolic representation of religious myths. In that setting, we would have objective guarantees that the creche could not suggest that a particular faith had been singled out for public favor and recognition. The effect of Pawtucket's creche, however, is not confined by any of these limiting attributes. In the absence of any other religious symbols or of any neutral disclaimer, the inescapable effect of the creche will be to remind the average observer of the religious roots of the celebration he is witnessing and to call to mind the scriptural message that the nativity symbolizes. The fact that Pawtucket has gone to the trouble of making such an elaborate public celebration and of including a creche in that otherwise secular setting inevitably serves to reinforce the sense that the city means to express solidarity with the Christian message of the creche and to dismiss other faiths as unworthy of similar attention and support.

    118
    II
    119

    Although the Court's relaxed application of the Lemon test to Pawtucket's creche is regrettable, it is at least understandable and properly limited to the particular facts of this case. The Court's opinion, however, also sounds a broader [714] and more troubling theme. Invoking the celebration of Thanksgiving as a public holiday, the legend "In God We Trust" on our coins, and the proclamation "God save the United States and this Honorable Court" at the opening of judicial sessions, the Court asserts, without explanation, that Pawtucket's inclusion of a creche in its annual Christmas display poses no more of a threat to Establishment Clause values than these other official "acknowledgments" of religion. Ante, at 674-678, 685-686; see also ante, at 692-693 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

    120

    Intuition tells us that some official "acknowledgment" is inevitable in a religious society if government is not to adopt a stilted indifference to the religious life of the people. See Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203, 232 (1948) (Jackson, J., concurring). It is equally true, however, that if government is to remain scrupulously neutral in matters of religious conscience, as our Constitution requires, then it must avoid those overly broad acknowledgements of religious practices that may imply governmental favoritism toward one set of religious beliefs. This does not mean, of course, that public officials may not take account, when necessary, of the separate existence and significance of the religious institutions and practices in the society they govern. Should government choose to incorporate some arguably religious element into its public ceremonies, that acknowledgment must be impartial; it must not tend to promote one faith or handicap another; and it should not sponsor religion generally over nonreligion. Thus, in a series of decisions concerned with such acknowledgments, we have repeatedly held that any active form of public acknowledgment of religion indicating sponsorship or endorsement is forbiden. E. g., Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (posting of Ten Commandments in schoolroom); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968) (prohibition on teaching principles of Darwinian evolution); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963) (mandatory Bible-reading at beginning of [715] school day); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962) (mandatory reading of state-composed prayer); Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, supra (use of public-school facilities for religious instruction).

    121

    Despite this body of case law, the Court has never comprehensively addressed the extent to which government may acknowledge religion by, for example, incorporating religious references into public ceremonies and proclamations, and I do not presume to offer a comprehensive approach. Nevertheless, it appears from our prior decisions that at least three principles — tracing the narrow channels which government acknowledgments must follow to satisfy the Establishment Clause — may be identified. First, although the government may not be compelled to do so by the Free Exercise Clause, it may, consistently with the Establishment Clause, act to accommodate to some extent the opportunities of individuals to practice their religion. See Schempp, supra, at 296-299 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). That is the essential meaning, I submit, of this Court's decision in Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952), finding that government does not violate the Establishment Clause when it simply chooses to "close its doors or suspend its operations as to those who want to repair to their religious sanctuary for worship or instruction." Id., at 314. And for me that principle would justify government's decision to declare December 25th a public holiday. See supra, at 710.

    122

    Second, our cases recognize that while a particular governmental practice may have derived from religious motivations and retain certain religious connotations, it is nonetheless permissible for the government to pursue the practice when it is continued today solely for secular reasons. As this Court noted with reference to Sunday Closing Laws in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961), the mere fact that a governmental practice coincides to some extent with certain religious beliefs does not render it unconstitutional. Thanksgiving Day, in my view, fits easily within this principle, [716] for despite its religious antecedents,[38] the current practice of celebrating Thanksgiving is unquestionably secular and patriotic. We all may gather with our families on that day to give thanks both for personal and national good fortune, but we are free, given the secular character of the holiday, to address that gratitude either to a divine beneficence or to such mundane sources as good luck or the country's abundant natural wealth.

    123

    Finally, we have noted that government cannot be completely prohibited from recognizing in its public actions the religious beliefs and practices of the American people as an aspect of our national history and culture. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 435, n. 21; Schempp, supra, at 300-304 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). While I remain uncertain about these questions, I would suggest that such practices as the designation of "In God We Trust" as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in Dean Rostow's apt phrase, as a form a "ceremonial deism,"[39] protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content. See Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S., at 818 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). [717] Moreover, these references are uniquely suited to serve such wholly secular purposes as solemnizing public occasions, or inspiring commitment to meet some national challenge in a manner that simply could not be fully served in our culture if government were limited to purely nonreligious phrases. Cf. Schempp, supra, at 265 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). The practices by which the government has long acknowledged religion are therefore probably necessary to serve certain secular functions, and that necessity, coupled with their long history, gives those practices an essentially secular meaning.

    124

    The creche fits none of these categories. Inclusion of the creche is not necessary to accommodate individual religious expression. This is plainly not a case in which individual residents of Pawtucket have claimed the right to place a creche as part of a wholly private display on public land. Cf. Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981); McCreary v. Stone, 575 F. Supp. 1112 (SDNY 1983). Nor is the inclusion of the creche necessary to serve wholly secular goals; it is clear that the city's secular purposes of celebrating the Christmas holiday and promoting retail commerce can be fully served without the creche. Cf. McGowan v. Maryland, and supra, at 699-700. And the creche, because of its unique association with Christianity, is clearly more sectarian than those references to God that we accept in ceremonial phrases or in other contexts that assure neutrality. The religious works on display at the National Gallery, Presidential references to God during an Inaugural Address, or the national motto present no risk of establishing religion. To be sure, our understanding of these expressions may begin in contemplation of some religious element, but it does not end there. Their message is dominantly secular. In contrast, the message of the creche begins and ends with reverence for a particular image of the divine.

    125

    By insisting that such a distinctively sectarian message is merely an unobjectionable part of our "religious heritage," see ante, at 676, 685-686, the Court takes a long step backwards [718] to the days when Justice Brewer could arrogantly declare for the Court that "this is a Christian nation." Church of Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U. S. 457, 471 (1892). Those days, I had thought, were forever put behind us by the Court's decision in Engel v. Vitale, in which we rejected a similar argument advanced by the State of New York that its Regent's Prayer was simply an acceptable part of our "spiritual heritage." 370 U. S., at 425.

    126
    III
    127

    The American historical experience concerning the public celebration of Christmas, if carefully examined, provides no support for the Court's decision. The opening sections of the Court's opinion, while seeking to rely on historical evidence, do no more than recognize the obvious: because of the strong religious currents that run through our history, an inflexible or absolutistic enforcement of the Establishment Clause would be both imprudent and impossible. See ante, at 673-678. This observation is at once uncontroversial and unilluminating. Simply enumerating the various ways in which the Federal Government has recognized the vital role religion plays in our society does nothing to help decide the question presented in this case.

    128

    Indeed, the Court's approach suggests a fundamental misapprehension of the proper uses of history in constitutional interpretation. Certainly, our decisions reflect the fact that an awareness of historical practice often can provide a useful guide in interpreting the abstract language of the Establishment Clause. See, e. g., Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S., at 676-680; McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S., at 431-445; Engel, 370 U. S., at 425-429. But historical acceptance of a particular practice alone is never sufficient to justify a challenged governmental action, since, as the Court has rightly observed, "no one acquires a vested or protected right in violation of the Constitution by long use, even when that span of time covers our entire national existence and indeed predates it." Walz, supra, at 678. See also Committee for [719] Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 792. Attention to the details of history should not blind us to the cardinal purposes of the Establishment Clause, nor limit our central inquiry in these cases — whether the challenged practices "threaten those consequences which the Framers deeply feared." Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 236 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). In recognition of this fact, the Court has, until today, consistently limited its historical inquiry to the particular practice under review.

    129

    In McGowan, for instance, the Court carefully canvassed the entire history of Sunday Closing Laws from the colonial period up to modern times. On the basis of this analysis, we concluded that while such laws were rooted in religious motivations, the current purpose was to serve the wholly secular goal of providing a uniform day of rest for all citizens. 366 U. S., at 445. Our inquiry in Walz was similarly confined to the special history of the practice under review. There the Court found a pattern of "undeviating acceptance" over the entire course of the Nation's history of according property-tax exemptions to religious organizations, a pattern which supported our finding that the practice did not violate the Religion Clauses. Finally, where direct inquiry into the Framers' intent reveals that the First Amendment was not understood to prohibit a particular practice, we have found such an understanding compelling. Thus, in Marsh v. Chambers, after marshaling the historical evidence which indicated that the First Congress had authorized the appointment of paid chaplains for its own proceedings only three days before it reached agreement on the final wording of the Bill of Rights, the Court concluded on the basis of this "unique history" that the modern-day practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer was constitutional. 463 U. S., at 787-791.

    130

    Although invoking these decisions in support of its result, the Court wholly fails to discuss the history of the public celebration of Christmas or the use of publicly displayed nativity scenes. The Court, instead, simply asserts, without any historical analysis or support whatsoever, that the now familiar [720] celebration of Christmas springs from an unbroken history of acknowledgment "by the people, by the Executive Branch, by the Congress, and the courts for 2 centuries . . . ." Ante, at 686. The Court's complete failure to offer any explanation of its assertion is perhaps understandable, however, because the historical record points in precisely the opposite direction. Two features of this history are worth noting. First, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, there was no settled pattern of celebrating Christmas, either as a purely religious holiday or as a public event. Second, the historical evidence, such as it is, offers no uniform pattern of widespread acceptance of the holiday and indeed suggests that the development of Christmas as a public holiday is a comparatively recent phenomenon.[40]

    131

    The intent of the Framers with respect to the public display of nativity scenes is virtually impossible to discern primarily because the widespread celebration of Christmas did not emerge in its present form until well into the 19th century. Carrying a well-defined Puritan hostility to the celebration of Christ's birth with them to the New World, the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony pursued a vigilant policy of opposition to any public celebration of the holiday. [721] To the Puritans, the celebration of Christmas represented a "Popish" practice lacking any foundation in Scripture. This opposition took legal form in 1659 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony made the observance of Christmas Day, "by abstinence from labor, feasting, or any other way," an offense punishable by fine. Although the Colony eventually repealed this ban in 1681, the Puritan objection remained firm.[41]

    132

    During the 18th century, sectarian division over the celebration of the holiday continued. As increasing numbers of members of the Anglican and the Dutch and German Reformed Churches arrived, the practice of celebrating Christmas as a purely religious holiday grew. But denominational differences continued to dictate differences in attitude toward the holiday. American Anglicans, who carried with them the Church of England's acceptance of the holiday, Roman Catholics, and various German groups all made the celebration of Christmas a vital part of their religious life. By contrast, many nonconforming Protestant groups, including the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists, continued to regard the holiday with suspicion and antagonism well into the 19th century.[42] This pattern of sectarian [722] division concerning the holiday suggests that for the Framers of the Establishment Clause, who were acutely sensitive to such sectarian controversies, no single view of how government should approach the celebration of Christmas would be possible.

    133

    Many of the same religious sects that were devotedly opposed to the celebration of Christmas on purely religious grounds, were also some of the most vocal and dedicated foes of established religions in the period just prior to the Revolutionary War.[43] The Puritans, and later the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, generally associated the celebration of Christmas with the elaborate and, in their view, sacreligious celebration of the holiday by the Church of England, and also with, for them, the more sinister theology of "Popery."[44] In the eyes of these dissenting religious sects, therefore, the groups most closely associated with established [723] religion — the Churches of England and of Rome — were also most closely linked to the profane practice of publicly celebrating Christmas. For those who authored the Bill of Rights, it seems reasonable to suppose that the public celebration of Christmas would have been regarded as at least a sensitive matter, if not deeply controversial. As we have repeatedly observed, the Religion Clauses were intended to ensure a benign regime of competitive disorder among all denominations, so that each sect was free to vie against the others for the allegiance of its followers without state interference. See Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1 (1947). The historical record, contrary to the Court's uninformed assumption, suggests that at the very least conflicting views toward the celebration of Christmas were an important element of that competition at the time of the adoption of the Constitution.

    134

    Furthermore, unlike the religious tax exemptions upheld in Walz, the public display of nativity scenes as part of governmental celebrations of Christmas does not come to us supported by an unbroken history of widespread acceptance. It was not until 1836 that a State first granted legal recognition to Christmas as a public holiday. This was followed in the period between 1845 and 1865, by 28 jurisdictions which included Christmas Day as a legal holiday.[45] Congress did not follow the States' lead until 1870 when it established December 25th, along with the Fourth of July, New Year's Day, and Thanksgiving, as a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.[46] This pattern of legal recognition tells us only that [724] public acceptance of the holiday was gradual and that the practice — in stark contrast to the record presented in either Walz or Marsh — did not take on the character of a widely recognized holiday until the middle of the 19th century.

    135

    The historical evidence with respect to public financing and support for governmental displays of nativity scenes is even more difficult to gauge. What is known suggests that German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania early in the 18th century, presumably drawing upon European traditions, were probably the first to introduce nativity scenes to the American celebration of Christmas.[47] It also appears likely that this practice expanded as more Roman Catholic immigrants settled during the 19th century. From these modest beginnings, the familiar creche scene developed and gained wider recognition by the late 19th century.[48] It is simply impossible to tell, however, whether the practice ever gained widespread acceptance, much less official endorsement, until the 20th century.

    136

    In sum, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Framers would have expressly approved a federal celebration of the Christmas holiday including public displays of a nativity [725] scene; accordingly, the Court's repeated invocation of the decision in Marsh, see ante, at 673-674, 682, 685-686, is not only baffling, it is utterly irrelevant. Nor is there any suggestion that publicly financed and supported displays of Christmas creches are supported by a record of widespread, undeviating acceptance that extends throughout our history. Therefore, our prior decisions which relied upon concrete, specific historical evidence to support a particular practice simply have no bearing on the question presented in this case. Contrary to today's careless decision, those prior cases have all recognized that the "illumination" provided by history must always be focused on the particular practice at issue in a given case. Without that guiding principle and the intellectual discipline it imposes, the Court is at sea, free to select random elements of America's varied history solely to suit the views of five Members of this Court.

    137
    IV
    138

    Under our constitutional scheme, the role of safeguarding our "religious heritage" and of promoting religious beliefs is reserved as the exclusive prerogative of our Nation's churches, religious institutions, and spiritual leaders. Because the Framers of the Establishment Clause understood that "religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy to permit its `unhallowed perversion' by civil [authorities]," Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S., at 432, the Clause demands that government play no role in this effort. The Court today brushes aside these concerns by insisting that Pawtucket has done nothing more than include a "traditional" symbol of Christmas in its celebration of this national holiday, thereby muting the religious content of the creche. Ante, at 685. But the city's action should be recognized for what it is: a coercive, though perhaps small, step toward establishing the sectarian preferences of the majority at the expense of the minority, accomplished by placing public facilities and funds in support of the religious symbolism and theological tidings that the [726] creche conveys. As Justice Frankfurter, writing in McGowan v. Maryland, observed, the Establishment Clause "withdr[aws] from the sphere of legitimate legislative concern and competence a specific, but comprehensive, area of human conduct: man's belief or disbelief in the verity of some transcendental idea and man's expression in action of that belief or disbelief." 366 U. S., at 465-466 (separate opinion). That the Constitution sets this realm of thought and feeling apart from the pressures and antagonisms of government is one of its supreme achievements. Regrettably, the Court today tarnishes that achievement.

    139

    I dissent.

    140
    JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE STEVENS joins, dissenting.
    141

    As JUSTICE BRENNAN points out, the logic of the Court's decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612-613 (1971) (which THE CHIEF JUSTICE would say has been applied by this Court "often," ante, at 679, but which JUSTICE O'CONNOR acknowledges with the words, "Our prior cases have used the three-part test articulated in Lemon," ante, at 688), compels an affirmance here. If that case and its guidelines mean anything, the presence of Pawtucket's creche in a municipally sponsored display must be held to be a violation of the First Amendment.

    142

    Not only does the Court's resolution of this controversy make light of our precedents, but also, ironically, the majority does an injustice to the creche and the message it manifests. While certain persons, including the Mayor of Pawtucket, undertook a crusade to "keep `Christ' in Christmas," App. 161, the Court today has declared that presence virtually irrelevant. The majority urges that the display, "with or without a creche," "recall[s] the religious nature of the Holiday," and "engenders a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season." Ante, at 685. Before the District Court, an expert witness for the city made [727] a similar, though perhaps more candid, point, stating that Pawtucket's display invites people "to participate in the Christmas spirit, brotherhood, peace, and let loose with their money." See 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1161 (RI 1981). The creche has been relegated to the role of a neutral harbinger of the holiday season, useful for commercial purposes, but devoid of any inherent meaning and incapable of enhancing the religious tenor of a display of which it is an integral part. The city has its victory — but it is a Pyrrhic one indeed.

    143

    The import of the Court's decision is to encourage use of the creche in a municipally sponsored display, a setting where Christians feel constrained in acknowledging its symbolic meaning and non-Christians feel alienated by its presence. Surely, this is a misuse of a sacred symbol. Because I cannot join the Court in denying either the force of our precedents or the sacred message that is at the core of the creche, I dissent and join JUSTICE BRENNAN's opinion.

    144

    ----------

    145

    [1] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Coalition for Religious Liberty et al. by James J. Knicely and John W. Whitehead; for the Legal Foundation of America by David Crump; and for the Washington Legal Foundation by Daniel J. Popeo, Paul D. Kamenar, and Nicholas E. Calio.

    146

    [2] See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U. S. 145, 164 (1879) (quoting reply from Thomas Jefferson to an address by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association (January 1, 1802)).

    147

    [3] The day after the First Amendment was proposed, Congress urged President Washington to proclaim "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God." See A. Stokes & L. Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States 87 (rev. 1st ed. 1964). President Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789, a day of thanksgiving to "offe[r] our prayers and supplications to the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . ." 1 J. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1897, p. 64 (1899).

    148

    Presidents Adams and Madison also issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, as have almost all our Presidents, see 3 A. Stokes, Church and State in the United States 180-193 (1950), through the incumbent, see Presidential Proclamation No. 4883, 3 CFR 68 (1982).

    149

    [4] An example is found in President Roosevelt's 1944 Proclamation of Thanksgiving:

    150

    "[I]t is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our Allies, to His children in other lands.

    .....

    "To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas." Presidential Proclamation No. 2629, 58 Stat. 1160.

    151

    President Reagan and his immediate predecessors have issued similar Proclamations. See, e. g., Presidential Proclamation No. 5098, 3 CFR 94 (1984); Presidential Proclamation No. 4803, 3 CFR 117 (1981); Presidential Proclamation No. 4333, 3 CFR 419 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 4093, 3 CFR 89 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3752, 3 CFR 75 (1966-1970 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3560, 3 CFR 312 (1959-1963 Comp.).

    152

    [5] The National Gallery regularly exhibits more than 200 similar religious paintings.

    153

    [6] See, e. g., Presidential Proclamation No. 5017, 3 CFR 8 (1984); Presidential Proclamation No. 4795, 3 CFR 109 (1981); Presidential Proclamation No. 4379, 3 CFR 486 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 4087, 3 CFR 81 (1971-1975 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3812, 3 CFR 155 (1966-1970 Comp.); Presidential Proclamation No. 3501, 3 CFR 228 (1959-1963 Comp.).

    154

    [7] The city contends that the purposes of the display are "exclusively secular." We hold only that Pawtucket has a secular purpose for its display, which is all that Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), requires. Were the test that the government must have "exclusively secular" objectives, much of the conduct and legislation this Court has approved in the past would have been invalidated.

    155

    [8] JUSTICE BRENNAN argues that the city's objectives could have been achieved without including the creche in the display, post, at 699. True or not, that is irrelevant. The question is whether the display of the creche violates the Establishment Clause.

    156

    [9] The Allen Court noted that "[p]erhaps free books make it more likely that some children choose to attend a sectarian school . . . ." 392 U. S., at 244.

    157

    [10] In Everson, the Court acknowledged that "[i]t is undoubtedly true that children are helped to get to church schools," and that "some of the children might not be sent to the church schools if the parents were compelled to pay their children's bus fares out of their own pockets . . . ." 330 U. S., at 17.

    158

    [11] We recognized in Tilton that the construction grants "surely aid[ed]" the institutions that received them. 403 U. S., at 679.

    159

    [12] "In McGowan v. Maryland . . . Sunday Closing Laws were sustained even though one of their undeniable effects was to render it somewhat more likely that citizens would respect religious institutions and even attend religious services." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 775-776 (1973).

    160

    [13] JUSTICE BRENNAN states that "by focusing on the holiday `context' in which the nativity scene appear[s]," the Court "seeks to explain away the clear religious import of the creche," post, at 705, and that it has equated the creche with a Santa's house or reindeer, post, at 711-712. Of course this is not true.

    161

    [14] The Court of Appeals viewed Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228 (1982), as commanding a "strict scrutiny" due to the city's ownership of the $200 creche which it considers as a discrimination between Christian and other religions. It is correct that we require strict scrutiny of a statute or practice patently discriminatory on its face. But we are unable to see this display, or any part of it, as explicitly discriminatory in the sense contemplated in Larson.

    162

    [15] The Court wrote in Lemon v. Kurtzmanthat a statute must pass three tests to withstand Establishment Clause challenge.

    163

    "First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster `an excessive government entanglement with religion.' " 403 U. S., at 612-613 (citations omitted).

    164

    Though phrased as a uniformly applicable test for constitutionality, this three-part test "provides `no more than [a] helpful signpos[t]' in dealing with Establishment Clause challenges." Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 394 (1983) (quoting Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 741 (1973)).

    165

    Moreover, the Court has held that a statute or practice that plainly embodies an intentional discrimination among religions must be closely fitted to a compelling state purpose in order to survive constitutional challenge. See Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228 (1982). As the Court's opinion observes, ante, at 687, n. 13, this case does not involve such discrimination. The Larson standard, I believe, may be assimilated to the Lemon test in the clarified version I propose. Plain intentional discrimination should give rise to a presumption, which may be overcome by a showing of compelling purpose and close fit, that the challenged government conduct constitutes an endorsement of the favored religion or a disapproval of the disfavored.

    166

    [16] For instance, nothing in the Court's opinion suggests that the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit erred when it found that a city-financed platform and cross used by Pope John Paul II to celebrate Mass and deliver a sermon during his 1979 visit to Philadelphia was an unconstitutional expenditure of city funds. Gilfillan v. City of Philadelphia, 637 F. 2d 924 (1980). Nor does the Court provide any basis for disputing the holding of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that the erection and maintenance of an illuminated Latin cross on state park property violates the Establishment Clause. American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 698 F. 2d 1098 (1983). See also Fox v. City of Los Angeles, 22 Cal. 3d 792, 587 P. 2d 663 (1978); Lowe v. City of Eugene, 254 Ore. 539, 463 P. 2d 360 (1969). And given the Court's focus upon the otherwise secular setting of the Pawtucket creche, it remains uncertain whether absent such secular symbols as Santa Claus' house, a talking wishing well, and cutout clowns and bears, a similar nativity scene would pass muster under the Court's standard. Cf. McCreary v. Stone, 575 F. Supp. 1112 (SDNY 1983) (holding that village did not violate Establishment Clause by refusing to permit a private group to erect a creche in a public park).

    167

    [17] Although I agree with the Court that no single formula can ever fully capture the analysis that may be necessary to resolve difficult Establishment Clause problems, see n. 11, infra, I fail to understand the Court's insistence upon referring to the settled test set forth in Lemon as simply one path that may be followed or not at the Court's option. See ante, at 679. The Court's citation of Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672 (1971), and Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756 (1973), to support this assertion is meaningless because both of those decisions applied the three-prong Lemon test. Indeed, ever since its initial formulation, the Lemon test has been consistently looked upon as the fundamental tool of Establishment Clause analysis. In Nyquist, the Court described the test in mandatory terms: "Taken together, [our] decisions dictate that to pass muster under the Establishment Clause the law in question [must satisfy the three elements of the Lemon test]." 413 U. S., at 772-773. And just last Term in Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982), THE CHIEF JUSTICE, speaking for the Court, wrote that "[t]his Court has consistently held that a statute must satisfy three criteria [as set forth in Lemon] to pass muster under the Establishment Clause." Id., at 123. See also Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 40-41 (1980) (per curiam); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229, 235-236 (1977). In addition, the Court's citation of Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228 (1982), also fails to support the Court's assertion. In Larson, we first reviewed a state law granting a denominational preference under a "strict scrutiny" analysis, id., at 246-251, but then concluded by finding the statute unconstitutional under the Lemon analysis as well. Id., at 251-255. Thus, despite the Court's efforts to evade the point, the fact remains that Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), is the only case in which the Court has not applied either the Lemon or a "strict scrutiny" analysis. I can only conclude that with today's unsupported assertion, the Court hopes to provide a belated excuse for the failure in Marsh to address the analysis of the Lemon test.

    168

    [18] See Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., supra, at 123; Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 271 (1981); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229, 236 (1977); Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U. S. 664, 674 (1970). As JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S concurring opinion rightly observes, this test provides a helpful analytical tool in considering the central question posed in this case — whether Pawtucket has run afoul of the Establishment Clause by endorsing religion through its display of the creche. Ante, at 690.

    169

    [19] I find it puzzling, to say the least, that the Court today should find "irrelevant," ante, at 681, n. 7, the fact that the city's secular objectives can be readily and fully accomplished without including the creche, since only last Term in Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S., at 123-124, the Court relied upon precisely the same point in striking down a Massachusetts statute which vested in church governing bodies the power to veto applications for liquor licenses. It seems the Court is willing to alter its analysis from Term to Term in order to suit its preferred results.

    170

    [20] Several representatives of Pawtucket's business community testified that although the overall Christmas display played an important role in promoting downtown holiday trade, the display would serve this purpose equally well even if the creche were removed. App. 133, 135, 139-140. The Mayor also testified that if the nativity scene had to be eliminated, the city would continue to erect the annual display without it. Id., at 115.

    171

    [21] The District Court also admitted into evidence, without objection from petitioners, a considerable amount of correspondence received by Mayor Lynch in support of maintaining the creche in the city's Christmas display. One such letter, which appears to be representative of the views of many, congratulates the Mayor on his efforts "to keep `Christ' in Christmas . . . ." App. 161. For the District Court's findings concerning the meaning of these letters, see 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1162 (RI 1981) ("Overall the tenor of the correspondence is that the lawsuit represents an attack on the presence of religion as part of the community's life, an attempt to deny the majority the ability to express publically its beliefs in a desired and traditionally accepted way"). Furthermore, as the District Court found, "the City has accepted and implemented the view of its predominantly Christian citizens that it is a `good thing' to have a creche in a Christmas display, . . . because it is a good thing to `keep Christ in Christmas.' " Id., at 1173.

    172

    [22] In this regard, the views expressed by the California Supreme Court in considering a similar issue are particularly relevant:

    173

    "When a city so openly promotes the religious meaning of one religion's holidays, the benefit reaped by that religion and the disadvantage suffered by other religions is obvious. Those persons who do not share those holidays are relegated to the status of outsiders by their own government; those persons who do observe those holidays can take pleasure in seeing the symbol of their belief given official sanction and special status." Fox v. City of Los Angeles, 22 Cal. 3d, at 803, 587 P. 2d, at 670 (striking down as unconstitutional the erection of an illuminated cross in front of city hall).

    174

    See also Lowe v. City of Eugene, 254 Ore., at 544-546, 463 P. 2d, at 363.

    175

    [23] See App. 104.

    176

    [24] The suggestion in Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 403-404, n. 11 (1983), relied upon by the Court today, see ante, at 684; ante, at 689 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), that inquiry into potential political divisiveness is unnecessary absent direct subsidies to church-sponsored schools or colleges, derives from a distorted reading of our prior cases. Simply because the Court in Lemon — a case involving such subsidies — inquired into potential divisiveness while distinguishing Everson and Allen — cases not involving such subsidies — does not provide any authority for the proposition that the Court in Lemon meant to confine the divisiveness inquiry only to cases factually identical to Lemon itself. Indeed, in Walz, the Court considered the question of divisiveness in the context of state tax exemptions to all religious institutions. I agree, however, with JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S helpful suggestion that while political divisiveness is "an evil addressed by the Establishment Clause," the ultimate inquiry must always focus on "the character of the government activity that might cause such divisiveness." Ante, at 689. Having said that, I should also emphasize that I disagree fundamentally with JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S apparent conclusion that Pawtucket's inclusion of the creche is not the kind of governmental act that may engender sharp division along religious lines. The contrary is demonstrated by the history of this case.

    177

    [25] This and similar issues relating to governmental endorsement of religious symbols has engendered continuing controversy which has reached the courts on many occasions. See, e. g., American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 698 F. 2d 1098 (CA11 1983); Florey v. Sioux Falls School Dist., 619 F. 2d 1311 (CA8 1980); Allen v. Morton, 161 U. S. App. D. C. 239, 495 F. 2d 65 (1973); Allen v. Hickel, 138 U. S. App. D. C. 31, 424 F. 2d 944 (1970); McCreary v. Stone, 575 F. Supp. 1112 (SDNY 1983); Citizens Concerned for Separation of Church and State v. Denver, 508 F. Supp. 823 (Colo. 1981); Russell v. Mamaroneck, 440 F. Supp. 607 (SDNY 1977); Lawrence v. Buchmueller, 40 Misc. 2d 300, 243 N. Y. S. 2d 87 (Sup. Ct. 1963). Given the narrowness of the Court's decision today, see supra, at 694-695, and n. 1, the potential for controversy is unlikely to abate.

    178

    [26] The Court makes only a halfhearted attempt, see ante, at 680-681, 682-683, to grapple with the fact that Judge Pettine's detailed findings may not be overturned unless they are shown to be "clearly erroneous." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 52(a). See Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U. S. 273, 285-290 (1982). In my view, petitioners have made no such showing in this case. JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S concurring opinion properly accords greater respect to the District Court's findings, but I am at a loss to understand how the court's specific and well-supported finding that the city was understood to have placed its stamp of approval on the sectarian content of the creche can, in the face of the Lemon test, be dismissed as simply an "error as a matter of law." Ante,at 694.

    179

    Moreover, although the Court brushes the point aside with little explanation, see ante, at 687, n. 13, the Lemon decision's three-prong analysis is not the only available standard of review. As the Court of Appeals recognized, the "strict scrutiny" analysis adopted in Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S., at 244-246, addresses situations in which a governmental policy or practice grants official preference to one religious denomination over another. 691 F. 2d 1029, 1034-1035 (CA1 1982). While I am inclined to agree with the Court of Appeals that Pawtucket's practice fails this test, it is not necessary that I address this point in view of my conclusion that the city's inclusion of the creche violates the standards fixed in Lemon.

    180

    Furthermore, I continue to believe that the test I set forth in Schempp is an appropriate means of determining whether rights guaranteed by the Establishment Clause have been infringed. In my view, "those involvements of religious with secular institutions which (a) serve the essentially religious activities of religious institutions; (b) employ the organs of government for essentially religious purposes; or (c) use essentially religious means to serve governmental ends, where secular means would suffice" must be struck down. 374 U. S., at 294-295. In the present case, I particularly believe the third element of this test is not met, since all of Pawtucket's governmental goals — celebrating the holiday season and promoting commerce — can be fully realized without the use of the creche by employing such wholly secular means as Santa Claus, reindeer, and cutout figures. See supra, at 699-700.

    181

    [27] Indeed, in the aid-to-sectarian-schools cases, the state financing schemes under review almost always require us to focus on a specific element that may violate the Establishment Clause, even though it is a part of a complex and otherwise secular statutory framework. See, e. g., Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349 (1975); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229 (1977). See also Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 662 (1980) (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting).

    182

    [28] See R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (1977); W. Auld, Christmas Traditions (1931); A. McArthur, The Evolution of the Christian Year (1953).

    183

    [29] For Christians, of course, the essential message of the nativity is that God became incarnate in the person of Christ. But just as fundamental to Jewish thought is the belief in the "non-incarnation of God, . . . [t]he God in whom [Jews] believe, to whom [Jews] are pledged, does not unite with human substance on earth." M. Buber, Israel and the World (1948) (reprinted in F. Talmage, Disputation and Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish-Christian Encounter 281-282 (1975) (emphasis deleted). This distinction, according to Buber, "constitute[s] the ultimate division between Judaism and Christianity." Id.,at 281. See also R. Reuther, Faith and Fratricide 246 (1974).

    184

    Similarly, those who follow the tenets of Unitarianism might well find Pawtucket's support for the symbolism of the creche, which highlights the Trinitarian tradition in Christian faith, to be an affront to their belief in a single divine being. See J. Williams, What Americans Believe and How They Worship 316-317 (3d ed. 1969). See also C. Olmstead, History of Religion in the United States 296-299 (1960).

    185

    [30] Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals recognized that Christmas comprises both secular and sectarian elements and that this distinction is of constitutional importance. See 525 F. Supp., at 1163-1164; 691 F. 2d, at 1032-1033; id., at 1035-1037 (Bownes, J., concurring). In addition, many observers have explained that historically the Christmas celebration derives both from traditional, folk elements such as gift-giving and winter seasonal celebrations, as well as from Christian religious elements. See, e. g., J. Barnett, The American Christmas, A Study in National Culture 9-14 (1954) (hereafter Barnett); R. Meyers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays 309-344 (1972); B. Rosenthal & N. Rosenthal, Christmas 14-15 (1980).

    186

    [31] It is worth noting that Christmas shares the list of federal holidays with such patently secular, patriotic holidays as the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Washington's Birthday, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. See 5 U. S. C. § 6103(a). We may reasonably infer from the distinctly secular character of the company that Christmas keeps on this list that it too is included for essentially secular reasons.

    187

    [32] See W. Auld, Christmas Traditions (1931); A McArthur, The Evolution of the Christian Year (1953).

    188

    [33] As one commentator has observed: "Today of course it is admitted even by Catholic exegetes that [the Biblical stories recounting Christ's birth] are a collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary and ultimately theologically motivated narratives, with a character of their own. Unlike the rest of Jesus' life, there are dream happenings here and angels constantly enter on the scene and leave it — as heavenly messengers of God announcing important events." H. Kung, On Being A Christian 451 (E. Quinn trans., 1976) (footnote omitted). See also R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah 25-41 (1977); Elliott, The Birth and Background of Jesus of Nazareth, 28 History Today 773, 774-780 (1978).

    189

    [34] Many Christian commentators have voiced strong objections to what they consider to be the debasement and trivialization of Christmas through too close a connection with commercial and public celebrations. See, e. g., Kelley, Beyond Separation of Church and State, 5 J. Church & State 181 (1963). See generally Barnett 55-57.

    190

    [35] See A. Stokes & L. Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States 383 (rev. ed. 1964); R. Morgan, The Supreme Court and Religion 126 (1972); Barnett 68 (discussing opposition by Jews and other non-Christian religious groups to public celebrations of Christmas). See also Talmage, supra n. 14.

    191

    [36] See N. Frye, The Secular Scripture 14-15 (1976).

    192

    [37] O. von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral 27 (1956). See also E. Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (1974). Compare Justice Jackson's explanation of his view that the study of religiously inspired material can, in the correct setting, be made a part of a secular educational program: "[m]usic without sacred music, architecture minus the cathedral, or painting without the scriptural themes would be eccentric and incomplete, even from a secular point of view." Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203, 236 (1948) (concurring opinion).

    193

    [38]The constitutional problems posed by the religious antecedents of the early Thanksgiving celebrations were well recognized by Thomas Jefferson. Refusing on Establishment Clause grounds to declare national days of thanksgiving or fasting, Jefferson explained:

    194

    "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, disciplines, or exercises. . . . [I]t is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer . . . [But] I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines . . . . Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline." 11 Jefferson's Writings 428-430 (1904) (emphasis deleted).

    195

    See generally L. Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom 266 (1967).

    196

    [39] Sutherland, Book Review, 40 Ind. L. J. 83, 86 (1964) (quoting Dean Rostow's 1962 Meiklejohn Lecture delivered at Brown University).

    197

    [40] The Court's insistence upon pursuing this vague historical analysis is especially baffling since even the petitioners and their supporting amici concede that no historical evidence equivalent to that relied upon in Marsh, McGowan, or Walzsupports publicly sponsored Christmas displays. At oral argument, counsel for petitioners was asked whether there is "anything we can refer to to let us know how long it has been the practice in this country for public bodies to have nativity scenes displayed?" Counsel responded: "Specifically, I cannot . . . . The recognition of Christmas [as a public holiday] began in the middle part of the last century . . . but specifically with respect to the use of the nativity scene, we have been unable to locate that data." Tr. of Oral Arg. 8.

    198

    In addition, the Solicitor General, appearing as amicus in support of petitioners, was asked: "Do we have . . . evidence [of the intent of the Framers] here with respect to the display of a nativity scene?" He responded: "Not with that degree of specificity." Id., at 22-23.

    199

    [41] See S. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America 209 (rev. ed. 1970). For an example of this notorious Puritan antipathy to the holiday, consider the remarks of Judge Sewell, a Puritan, who in 1685 expressed his concerns about the influence of public celebration of Christmas: "Some, somehow observe the day, but are vexed, I believe, that the Body of the People Profane it; and, blessed be God, no Authority yet to compel them to keep it." Quoted in Barnett 3.

    200

    [42] See generally Barnett 4-6, 21-22; Sweet, Christmas in American History, 22 Chi. Theol. Sem. Register 12, 14 (Nov. 1932); R. Meyers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays 314-315 (1972). Some indication of this denominational opposition to the religious celebration of Christmas can be gleaned from the following account of Christmas services in the New York Daily Times for December 26, 1855:

    201

    "The churches of the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists were not open on Dec. 25 except where some Mission Schools had a celebration. They do not accept the day as a Holy One, but the Episcopalian, Catholic and German Churches were all open. Inside they were decked with evergreens." Quoted in Barnett 8.

    202

    In addition, consider the account written in 1874 of Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist, describing his New England childhood:

    203

    "To me Christmas is a foreign day, and I shall die so. When I was a boy I wondered what Christmas was. I knew there was such a time, because we had an Episcopal church in our town and I saw them dressing it with evergreens . . . . A little later I understood it was a Romish institution, kept up by the Romish Church. Brought up in the strictest state of New England, brought up in the most literal style of worship . . . I passed all my youth without any knowledge of Christmas, and so I have no associations with the day." Quoted in Meyers, supra n. 15, at 315-316.

    204

    [43] The role of these religious groups in the struggle for disestablishment and their place in the history of the Establishment Clause have already been chronicled at some length in our cases, and therefore I will not repeat that history here. See Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1, 9-15 (1947); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 428, and n. 10 (1962); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 770, and n. 28. For more comprehensive discussions of the efforts of these denominations to bring about disestablishment, see S. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America (rev. ed. 1970); B. Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution 257-263 (1967); W. McLoughlin, New England Dissent: 1630-1833 (1971); L. Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom (1967).

    205

    [44] See Barnett 2-6.

    206

    [45] For a compilation of these developments, see id., at 19-20.

    207

    [46] Ch. 167, 16 Stat. 168. There is no suggestion in the brief congressional discussion concerning the decision to declare Christmas Day a public holiday in the District of Columbia, that Congress meant to do anything more than to put the District on equal footing with the many States that had declared those days public holidays by that time. See Cong. Globe, 41st Cong., 2d Sess., 4805 (1870).

    208

    Significantly, it was not until 1885 that Congress provided holiday payment for federal employees on December 25. See J. Res. 5, 23 Stat. 516.

    209

    [47] See Barnett 11-12; Meyers, supra n. 15. The symbol of the creche as an artifact of Christmas celebration apparently owes its origins to St. Francis of Assisi who, according to most accounts, first popularized the ritual re-enactment of the birth of Christ by erecting a manger attended by townspeople who played the now-traditional roles of shepherds, Magi, etc., in the village of Greccio, Italy, in 1224. See W. Auld, Christmas Traditions 56 (1931); M. Krythe, All About Christmas 85 (1954).

    210

    [48] One commentator has noted that the increasing secularization of the Christmas celebration which occurred during the 19th century led "members of the Puritan and evangelical churches [to be] less inclined to oppose the secular celebration when it no longer symbolized the religious and political dominance of the Church of England. This tolerance increased during the nineteenth century and undoubtedly encouraged [the] popularity [of the celebration of Christmas]." Barnett 6; see also id., at 11-12, 22-23.

  • 2 County of Allegheny v. ACLU

    1
    492 U.S. 573 (1989)
    2
    COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY ET AL.
    v.
    AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, GREATER PITTSBURGH CHAPTER, ET AL.
    3
    No. 87-2050.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued February 22, 1989
    5
    Decided July 3, 1989[1]
    6
    CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
    7

    [577] Peter Buscemi argued the cause for petitioners in Nos. 87-2050 and 88-96. With him on the briefs were George M. Janocsko, Robert L. McTiernan, D. R. Pellegrini, and George [578] R. Specter. Nathan Lewin argued the cause for petitioner in No. 88-90. With him on the briefs was Charles H. Saul.

    8

    Roslyn M. Litman argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief for respondents American Civil Liberties Union et al. were Jon Pushinsky, James B. Lieber, John A. Powell, and Steven R. Shapiro. Ruti Teitel, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, Steven M. Freeman, Richard E. Shevitz, and Jill L. Kahn filed a brief for respondent Tunador.[2]

    9
    JUSTICE BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts III-A, IV, and V, an opinion with respect to Parts I and II, in which JUSTICE STEVENS and JUSTICE O'CONNOR join, an opinion with respect to Part III-B, in which JUSTICE STEVENS joins, an opinion with respect to Part VII, in which JUSTICE O'CONNOR joins, and an opinion with respect to Part VI.
    10

    This litigation concerns the constitutionality of two recurring holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh. The first is a creche placed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse. The second is a Chanukah menorah placed just outside the City-County Building, next to a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that each display violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because each has the impermissible effect of endorsing religion. [579] 842 F. 2d 655 (1988). We agree that the creche display has that unconstitutional effect but reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment regarding the menorah display.

    11
    I
    12
    A
    13

    The county courthouse is owned by Allegheny County and is its seat of government. It houses the offices of the county commissioners, controller, treasurer, sheriff, and clerk of court. Civil and criminal trials are held there. App. 69. The "main," "most beautiful," and "most public" part of the courthouse is its Grand Staircase, set into one arch and surrounded by others, with arched windows serving as a backdrop. Id., at 157-158; see Joint Exhibit Volume (JEV) 31.

    14

    Since 1981, the county has permitted the Holy Name Society, a Roman Catholic group, to display a creche in the county courthouse during the Christmas holiday season. App. 164. Christmas, we note perhaps needlessly, is the holiday when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believe to be the Messiah.[3] Western churches have celebrated Christmas Day on December 25 since the fourth century.[4] As observed in this Nation, Christmas has a secular, as well as a religious, dimension.[5]

    15

    [580] The creche in the county courthouse, like other creches, is a visual representation of the scene in the manager in Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Jesus, as described in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.[6] The creche includes figures of the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, farm animals, shepherds, and wise men, all placed in or before a wooden representation of a manager, which has at its crest an angel bearing a banner that proclaims "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"[7]

    16

    During the 1986-1987 holiday season, the creche was on display on the Grand Staircase from November 26 to January 9. App. 15, 59. It had a wooden fence on three sides and bore a plaque stating: "This Display Donated by the Holy Name Society." Sometime during the week of December 2, the county placed red and white poinsettia plants around the fence. Id., at 96. The county also placed a small evergreen tree, decorated with a red bow, behind each of the two end-posts of the fence. Id., at 204; JEV 7.[8] These trees stood alongside the manger backdrop and were slightly shorter than it was. The angel thus was at the apex of the creche display. Altogether, the creche, the fence, the poinsettias, and the trees occupied a substantial amount of space on the Grand Staircase. No figures of Santa Claus or other decorations [581] appeared on the Grand Staircase. App. 188.[9] Cf. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 671 (1984). Appendix A at the end of this opinion is a photograph of the display.

    17

    The county uses the creche as the setting for its annual Christmas-carol program. See JEV 36. During the 1986 season, the county invited high school choirs and other musical groups to perform during weekday lunch hours from December 3 through December 23. The county dedicated this program to world peace and to the families of prisoners-of-war and of persons missing in action in Southeast Asia. App. 160; JEV 30.

    18

    Near the Grand Staircase is an area of the county courthouse known as the "gallery forum" used for art and other cultural exhibits. App. 163. The creche, with its fence-and-floral frame, however, was distinct and not connected with any exhibit in the gallery forum. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 7 (the forum was "not any kind of an integral part of the Christmas display"); see also JEV 32-34. In addition, various departments and offices within the county courthouse had their own Christmas decorations, but these also are not visible from the Grand Staircase. App. 167.

    19
    B
    20

    The City-County Building is separate and a block removed from the county courthouse and, as the name implies, is jointly owned by the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The city's portion of the building houses the city's principal offices, including the mayor's. Id., at 17. The city is responsible for the building's Grant Street entrance which has three rounded arches supported by columns. Id., at 194, 207.

    21

    For a number of years, the city has had a large Christmas tree under the middle arch outside the Grant Street entrance. Following this practice, city employees on November [582] 17, 1986, erected a 45-foot tree under the middle arch and decorated it with lights and ornaments. Id., at 218-219. A few days later, the city placed at the foot of the tree a sign bearing the mayor's name and entitled "Salute to Liberty." Beneath the title, the sign stated:

    22
    "During this holiday season, the city of Pittsburgh salutes liberty. Let these festive lights remind us that we are the keepers of the flame of liberty and our legacy of freedom." JEV 41.
    23

    At least since 1982, the city has expanded its Grant Street holiday display to include a symbolic representation of Chanukah, an 8-day Jewish holiday that begins on the 25th day of the Jewish lunar month of Kislev. App. 138.[10] The 25th of Kislev usually occurs in December,[11] and thus Chanukah is the annual Jewish holiday that falls closest to Christmas Day each year. In 1986, Chanukah began at sundown on December 26. Id., at 138-139.

    24

    According to Jewish tradition, on the 25th of Kislev in 164 B.C.E. (before the common era (165 B.C.)), the Maccabees rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem after recapturing it from the Greeks, or, more accurately, from the Greek-influenced Seleucid Empire, in the course of a political rebellion. Id., [583] at 138.[12] Chanukah is the holiday which celebrates that event.[13] The early history of the celebration of Chanukah is unclear; it appears that the holiday's central ritual — the lighting of lamps — was well established long before a single explanation of that ritual took hold.[14]

    25

    The Talmud[15] explains the lamplighting ritual as a commemoration of an event that occurred during the rededication of the Temple. The Temple housed a seven-branch menorah,[16] which was to be kept burning continuously. Id., at 139, 144. When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, they had only enough oil to last for one day. But, according to the Talmud, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days (the length of time it took to obtain additional oil). Id., at 139.[17] To celebrate and publicly proclaim this miracle, the Talmud prescribes that it is a mitzvah (i. e., a religious deed or commandment), id., at 140,[18] for Jews to place a lamp with eight lights just outside the entrance to their homes or in a front window during the eight days of Chanukah. Id., at [584] 147.[19] Where practicality or safety from persecution so requires, the lamp may be placed in a window or inside the home.[20] The Talmud also ordains certain blessings to be recited each night of Chanukah before lighting the lamp.[21] One such benediction has been translated into English as "We are blessing God who has sanctified us and commanded us with mitzvot and has told us to light the candles of Hanukkah." Id., at 306.[22]

    26

    Although Jewish law does not contain any rule regarding the shape or substance of a Chanukah lamp (or "hanukkiyyah"), id., at 146, 238,[23] it became customary to evoke the memory of the Temple menorah. Id., at 139, 144. The Temple menorah was of a tree-and-branch design; it had a central candlestick with six branches. Id., at 259.[24] In contrast, a Chanukah menorah of tree-and-branch design has eight branches — one for each day of the holiday — plus a ninth to hold the shamash (an extra candle used to light the other eight). Id., at 144.[25] Also in contrast to the Temple menorah, the Chanukah menorah is not a sanctified object; it need not be treated with special care.[26]

    27

    [585] Lighting the menorah is the primary tradition associated with Chanukah, but the holiday is marked by other traditions as well. One custom among some Jews is to give children Chanukah gelt, or money.[27] Another is for the children to gamble their gelt using a dreidel, a top with four sides. Each of the four sides contains a Hebrew letter; together the four letters abbreviate a phrase that refers to the Chanukah miracle. Id., at 241-242.[28]

    28

    Chanukah, like Christmas, is a cultural event as well as a religious holiday. Id., at 143. Indeed, the Chanukah story always has had a political or national, as well as a religious, dimension: it tells of national heroism in addition to divine intervention.[29] Also, Chanukah, like Christmas, is a winter holiday; according to some historians, it was associated in ancient times with the winter solstice.[30] Just as some Americans celebrate Christmas without regard to its religious significance, some nonreligious American Jews celebrate Chanukah as an expression of ethnic identity, and "as a cultural or national event, rather than as a specifically religious event." Ibid.[31]

    29

    [586] The cultural significance of Chanukah varies with the setting in which the holiday is celebrated. In contemporary Israel, the nationalist and military aspects of the Chanukah story receive special emphasis.[32] In this country, the tradition of giving Chanukah gelt has taken on greater importance because of the temporal proximity of Chanukah to Christmas.[33] Indeed, some have suggested that the proximity of Christmas accounts for the social prominence of Chanukah in this country.[34] Whatever the reason, Chanukah is observed by American Jews to an extent greater than its religious importance [587] would indicate: in the hierarchy of Jewish holidays, Chanukah ranks fairly low in religious significance.[35] This socially heightened status of Chanukah reflects its cultural or secular dimension.[36]

    30

    On December 22 of the 1986 holiday season, the city placed at the Grant Street entrance to the City-County Building an 18-foot Chanukah menorah of an abstract tree-and-branch design. The menorah was placed next to the city's 45-foot Christmas tree, against one of the columns that supports the arch into which the tree was set. The menorah is owned by Chabad, a Jewish group,[37] but is stored, erected, and removed each year by the city. Id., at 290; see also Brief for Petitioner in No. 88-96, p. 4. The tree, the sign, and the menorah were all removed on January 13. App. 58, 220-221. Appendix B, p. 622, is a photograph of the tree, the sign, and the menorah. App. 212; JEV 40.

    31
    II
    32

    This litigation began on December 10, 1986, when respondents, the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and seven local residents, filed suit against the county and the city, seeking permanently to enjoin the county from displaying the creche in the county courthouse and the city from displaying the menorah in front of the City-County [588] Building.[38] Respondents claim that the displays of the creche and the menorah each violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, made applicable to state governments by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 48-55 (1985).[39] Chabad was permitted to intervene to defend the display of its menorah.[40]

    33

    On May 8, 1987, the District Court denied respondents' request for a permanent injunction. Relying on Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984), the court stated that "the creche was but part of the holiday decoration of the stairwell and a foreground for the highschool choirs which entertained each day at noon." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 87-2050, p. 4a. Regarding the menorah, the court concluded that "it was but an insignificant part of another holiday display." Ibid. The court also found that "the displays had a secular purpose" and "did not create an excessive entanglement of government with religion." Id., at 5a.

    34

    Respondents appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed. 842 F. 2d 655 (CA3 1988). Distinguishing Lynch v. Donnelly, the panel majority determined that the creche and the menorah must be understood as endorsing Christianity and Judaism. The court observed: "Each display was located at or in a public building devoted [589] to core functions of government." 842 F. 2d, at 662. The court also stated: "Further, while the menorah was placed near a Christmas tree, neither the creche nor the menorah can reasonably be deemed to have been subsumed by a larger display of non-religious items." Ibid. Because the impermissible effect of endorsing religion was a sufficient basis for holding each display to be in violation of the Establishment Clause under Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), the Court of Appeals did not consider whether either one had an impermissible purpose or resulted in an unconstitutional entanglement between government and religion.

    35

    The dissenting judge stated that the creche, "accompanied by poinsettia plants and evergreens, does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because plastic Santa Clauses or reindeer are absent." 842 F. 2d, at 670. As to the menorah, he asserted: "Including a reference to Chanukah did no more than broaden the commemoration of the holiday season and stress the notion of sharing its joy." Id., at 670-671.

    36

    Rehearing en banc was denied by a 6-to-5 vote. See App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 87-2050, p. 45a. The county, the city, and Chabad each filed a petition for certiorari. We granted all three petitions. 488 U. S. 816 (1988).

    37
    III
    38
    A
    39

    This Nation is heir to a history and tradition of religious diversity that dates from the settlement of the North American Continent. Sectarian differences among various Christian denominations were central to the origins of our Republic. Since then, adherents of religions too numerous to name have made the United States their home, as have those whose beliefs expressly exclude religion.

    40

    Precisely because of the religious diversity that is our national heritage, the Founders added to the Constitution a Bill of Rights, the very first words of which declare: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or [590] prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." Perhaps in the early days of the Republic these words were understood to protect only the diversity within Christianity, but today they are recognized as guaranteeing religious liberty and equality to "the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 52.[41] It is settled law that no government official in this Nation may violate these fundamental constitutional rights regarding matters of conscience. Id., at 49.

    41

    In the course of adjudicating specific cases, this Court has come to understand the Establishment Clause to mean that government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization,[42] may not discriminate among persons on the basis of their religious beliefs and practices,[43] [591] may not delegate a governmental power to a religious institution,[44] and may not involve itself too deeply in such an institution's affairs.[45] Although "the myriad, subtle ways in which Establishment Clause values can be eroded," Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), are not susceptible to a single verbal formulation, this Court has attempted to encapsulate the essential precepts of the Establishment Clause. Thus, in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1 (1947), the Court gave this often-repeated summary:

    42
    "The `establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa." Id., at 15-16.
    43

    [592] In Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, the Court sought to refine these principles by focusing on three "tests" for determining whether a government practice violates the Establishment Clause. Under the Lemon analysis, a statute or practice which touches upon religion, if it is to be permissible under the Establishment Clause, must have a secular purpose; it must neither advance nor inhibit religion in its principal or primary effect; and it must not foster an excessive entanglement with religion. 403 U. S., at 612-613. This trilogy of tests has been applied regularly in the Court's later Establishment Clause cases.[46]

    44

    Our subsequent decisions further have refined the definition of governmental action that unconstitutionally advances religion. In recent years, we have paid particularly close attention to whether the challenged governmental practice either has the purpose or effect of "endorsing" religion, a concern that has long had a place in our Establishment Clause jurisprudence. See Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 436 (1962). Thus, in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 60, the Court held unconstitutional Alabama's moment-of-silence statute because it was "enacted . . . for the sole purpose of expressing the State's endorsement of prayer activities." The Court similarly invalidated Louisiana's "Creationism Act" because it "endorses religion" in its purpose. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 593 (1987). And the educational [593] program in School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 389-392 (1985), was held to violate the Establishment Clause because of its "endorsement" effect. See also Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1, 17 (1989) (plurality opinion) (tax exemption limited to religious periodicals "effectively endorses religious belief").

    45

    Of course, the word "endorsement" is not self-defining. Rather, it derives its meaning from other words that this Court has found useful over the years in interpreting the Establishment Clause. Thus, it has been noted that the prohibition against governmental endorsement of religion "preclude[s] government from conveying or attempting to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 70 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment) (emphasis added). Accord, Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S., at 27, 28 (separate opinion concurring in judgment) (reaffirming that "government may not favor religious belief over disbelief" or adopt a "preference for the dissemination of religious ideas"); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S., at 593 ("preference" for particular religious beliefs constitutes an endorsement of religion); Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 305 (1963) (Goldberg, J., concurring) ("The fullest realization of true religious liberty requires that government . . . effect no favoritism among sects or between religion and nonreligion"). Moreover, the term "endorsement" is closely linked to the term "promotion," Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 691 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), and this Court long since has held that government "may not . . . promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite," Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 104 (1968). See also Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 59-60 (using the concepts of endorsement, promotion, and favoritism interchangeably).

    46

    Whether the key word is "endorsement," "favoritism," or "promotion," the essential principle remains the same. The [594] Establishment Clause, at the very least, prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief or from "making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 687 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

    47
    B
    48

    We have had occasion in the past to apply Establishment Clause principles to the government's display of objects with religious significance. In Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980), we held that the display of a copy of the Ten Commandments on the walls of public classrooms violates the Establishment Clause. Closer to the facts of this litigation is Lynch v. Donnelly, supra, in which we considered whether the city of Pawtucket, R. I., had violated the Establishment Clause by including a creche in its annual Christmas display, located in a private park within the downtown shopping district. By a 5-to-4 decision in that difficult case, the Court upheld inclusion of the creche in the Pawtucket display, holding, inter alia, that the inclusion of the creche did not have the impermissible effect of advancing or promoting religion.[47]

    49

    The rationale of the majority opinion in Lynch is none too clear: the opinion contains two strands, neither of which provides guidance for decision in subsequent cases. First, the opinion states that the inclusion of the creche in the display was "no more an advancement or endorsement of religion" than other "endorsements" this Court has approved in the past, 465 U. S., at 683 — but the opinion offers no discernible measure for distinguishing between permissible and impermissible endorsements. Second, the opinion observes that any benefit the government's display of the creche gave to religion was no more than "indirect, remote, and incidental," ibid. — without saying how or why.

    50

    [595] Although JUSTICE O'CONNOR joined the majority opinion in Lynch, she wrote a concurrence that differs in significant respects from the majority opinion. The main difference is that the concurrence provides a sound analytical framework for evaluating governmental use of religious symbols.

    51

    First and foremost, the concurrence squarely rejects any notion that this Court will tolerate some government endorsement of religion. Rather, the concurrence recognizes any endorsement of religion as "invalid," id., at 690, because it "sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community," id., at 688.

    52

    Second, the concurrence articulates a method for determining whether the government's use of an object with religious meaning has the effect of endorsing religion. The effect of the display depends upon the message that the government's practice communicates: the question is "what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display." Id., at 692. That inquiry, of necessity, turns upon the context in which the contested object appears: "[A] typical museum setting, though not neutralizing the religious content of a religious painting, negates any message of endorsement of that content." Ibid. The concurrence thus emphasizes that the constitutionality of the creche in that case depended upon its "particular physical setting," ibid., and further observes: "Every government practice must be judged in its unique circumstances to determine whether it [endorses] religion," id., at 694.[48]

    53

    [596] The concurrence applied this mode of analysis to the Pawtucket creche, seen in the context of that city's holiday celebration as a whole. In addition to the creche, the city's display contained: a Santa Claus house with a live Santa distributing candy; reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh; a live 40-foot Christmas tree strung with lights; statutes of carolers in old-fashioned dress; candy-striped poles; a "talking" wishing well; a large banner proclaiming "SEASONS GREETINGS"; a miniature "village" with several houses and a church; and various "cut-out" figures, including those of a clown, a dancing elephant, a robot, and a teddy bear. See 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1155 (RI 1981). The concurrence concluded that both because the creche is "a traditional symbol" of Christmas, a holiday with strong secular elements, and because the creche was "displayed along with purely secular symbols," the creche's setting "changes what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display" and "negates any message of endorsement" of "the Christian beliefs represented by the creche." 465 U. S., at 692.

    54

    The four Lynch dissenters agreed with the concurrence that the controlling question was "whether Pawtucket ha[d] run afoul of the Establishment Clause by endorsing religion through its display of the creche." Id., at 698, n. 3 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). The dissenters also agreed with the [597] general proposition that the context in which the government uses a religious symbol is relevant for determining the answer to that question. Id., at 705-706. They simply reached a different answer: the dissenters concluded that the other elements of the Pawtucket display did not negate the endorsement of Christian faith caused by the presence of the creche. They viewed the inclusion of the creche in the city's overall display as placing "the government's imprimatur of approval on the particular religious beliefs exemplified by the creche." Id., at 701. Thus, they stated: "The effect on minority religious groups, as well as on those who may reject all religion, is to convey the message that their views are not similarly worthy of public recognition nor entitled to public support." Ibid.

    55

    Thus, despite divergence at the bottom line, the five Justices in concurrence and dissent in Lynch agreed upon the relevant constitutional principles: the government's use of religious symbolism is unconstitutional if it has the effect of endorsing religious beliefs, and the effect of the government's use of religious symbolism depends upon its context. These general principles are sound, and have been adopted by the Court in subsequent cases. Since Lynch, the Court has made clear that, when evaluating the effect of government conduct under the Establishment Clause, we must ascertain whether "the challenged governmental action is sufficiently likely to be perceived by adherents of the controlling denominations as an endorsement, and by the nonadherents as a disapproval, of their individual religious choices." Grand Rapids, 473 U. S., at 390. Accordingly, our present task is to determine whether the display of the creche and the menorah, in their respective "particular physical settings," has the effect of endorsing or disapproving religious beliefs.[49]

    56
    [598] IV
    57

    We turn first to the county's creche display. There is no doubt, of course, that the creche itself is capable of communicating a religious message. See Lynch, 465 U. S., at 685 (majority opinion); id., at 692 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring); id., at 701 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting); id., at 727 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting). Indeed, the creche in this lawsuit uses words, as well as the picture of the Nativity scene, to make its religious meaning unmistakably clear. "Glory to God in the Highest!" says the angel in the creche — Glory to God because of the birth of Jesus. This praise to God in Christian terms is indisputably religious — indeed sectarian — just as it is when said in the Gospel or in a church service.

    58

    Under the Court's holding in Lynch, the effect of a creche display turns on its setting. Here, unlike in Lynch, nothing in the context of the display detracts from the creche's religious message. The Lynch display comprised a series of figures and objects, each group of which had its own focal point. Santa's house and his reindeer were objects of attention separate from the creche, and had their specific visual story to tell. Similarly, whatever a "talking" wishing well may be, it obviously was a center of attention separate from the creche. Here, in contrast, the creche stands alone: it is the single element of the display on the Grand Staircase.[50]

    59

    [599] The floral decoration surrounding the creche cannot be viewed as somehow equivalent to the secular symbols in the overall Lynch display. The floral frame, like all good frames, serves only to draw one's attention to the message inside the frame. The floral decoration surrounding the creche contributes to, rather than detracts from, the endorsement of religion conveyed by the creche. It is as if the county had allowed the Holy Name Society to display a cross on the Grand Staircase at Easter, and the county had surrounded the cross with Easter lilies. The county could not say that surrounding the cross with traditional flowers of the season would negate the endorsement of Christianity conveyed by the cross on the Grand Staircase. Its contention that the traditional Christmas greens negate the endorsement effect of the creche fares no better.

    60

    Nor does the fact that the creche was the setting for the county's annual Christmas-carol program diminish its religious meaning. First, the carol program in 1986 lasted only from December 3 to December 23 and occupied at most one hour a day. JEV 28. The effect of the creche on those who viewed it when the choirs were not singing — the vast majority of the time — cannot be negated by the presence of the choir program. Second, because some of the carols performed at the site of the creche were religious in nature,[51] those carols were more likely to augment the religious quality of the scene than to secularize it.

    61

    Furthermore, the creche sits on the Grand Staircase, the "main" and "most beautiful part" of the building that is the seat of county government. App. 157. No viewer could reasonably think that it occupies this location without the [600] support and approval of the government.[52] Thus, by permitting the "display of the creche in this particular physical setting," Lynch, 465 U. S., at 692 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), the county sends an unmistakable message that it supports and promotes the Christian praise to God that is the creche's religious message.

    62

    The fact that the creche bears a sign disclosing its ownership by a Roman Catholic organization does not alter this conclusion. On the contrary, the sign simply demonstrates that the government is endorsing the religious message of that organization, rather than communicating a message of its own. But the Establishment Clause does not limit only the religious content of the government's own communications. It also prohibits the government's support and promotion of religious communications by religious organizations. See, e.g., Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1 (1989) (government support of the distribution of religious messages by religious organizations violates the Establishment Clause). Indeed, the very concept of "endorsement" conveys [601] the sense of promoting someone else's message. Thus, by prohibiting government endorsement of religion, the Establishment Clause prohibits precisely what occurred here: the government's lending its support to the communication of a religious organization's religious message.

    63

    Finally, the county argues that it is sufficient to validate the display of the creche on the Grand Staircase that the display celebrates Christmas, and Christmas is a national holiday. This argument obviously proves too much. It would allow the celebration of the Eucharist inside a courthouse on Christmas Eve. While the county may have doubts about the constitutional status of celebrating the Eucharist inside the courthouse under the government's auspices, see Tr. of Oral Arg. 8-9, this Court does not. The government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, but under the First Amendment it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.[53]

    64

    In sum, Lynch teaches that government may celebrate Christmas in some manner and form, but not in a way that endorses Christian doctrine. Here, Allegheny County has transgressed this line. It has chosen to celebrate Christmas in a way that has the effect of endorsing a patently Christian message: Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ. Under Lynch, and the rest of our cases, nothing more is required to [602] demonstrate a violation of the Establishment Clause. The display of the creche in this context, therefore, must be permanently enjoined.

    65
    V
    66

    JUSTICE KENNEDY and the three Justices who join him would find the display of the creche consistent with the Establishment Clause. He argues that this conclusion necessarily follows from the Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), which sustained the constitutionality of legislative prayer. Post, at 665. He also asserts that the creche, even in this setting, poses "no realistic risk" of "represent[ing] an effort to proselytize," post, at 664, having repudiated the Court's endorsement inquiry in favor of a "proselytization" approach. The Court's analysis of the creche, he contends, "reflects an unjustified hostility toward religion." Post, at 655.

    67

    JUSTICE KENNEDY'S reasons for permitting the creche on the Grand Staircase and his condemnation of the Court's reasons for deciding otherwise are so far reaching in their implications that they require a response in some depth.

    68
    A
    69

    In Marsh, the Court relied specifically on the fact that Congress authorized legislative prayer at the same time that it produced the Bill of Rights. See n. 46, supra. JUSTICE KENNEDY, however, argues that Marsh legitimates all "practices with no greater potential for an establishment of religion" than those "accepted traditions dating back to the Founding." Post, at 670, 669. Otherwise, the Justice asserts, such practices as our national motto ("In God We Trust") and our Pledge of Allegiance (with the phrase "under God," added in 1954, Pub. L. 396, 68 Stat. 249) are in danger of invalidity.

    70

    Our previous opinions have considered in dicta the motto and the pledge, characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that government may not communicate an endorsement [603] of religious belief. Lynch, 465 U. S., at 693 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring); id., at 716-717 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). We need not return to the subject of "ceremonial deism," see n. 46, supra, because there is an obvious distinction between creche displays and references to God in the motto and the pledge. However history may affect the constitutionality of nonsectarian references to religion by the government,[54] history cannot legitimate practices that demonstrate the government's allegiance to a particular sect or creed.

    71

    Indeed, in Marsh itself, the Court recognized that not even the "unique history" of legislative prayer, 463 U. S., at 791, can justify contemporary legislative prayers that have the effect of affiliating the government with any one specific faith or belief. Id., at 794-795. The legislative prayers involved in Marsh did not violate this principle because the particular chaplain had "removed all references to Christ." Id., at 793, n. 14. Thus, Marsh plainly does not stand for the sweeping proposition JUSTICE KENNEDY apparently would ascribe to it, namely, that all accepted practices 200 years old and their equivalents are constitutional today. Nor can Marsh, given its facts and its reasoning, compel the conclusion that the display of the creche involved in this lawsuit is constitutional. Although JUSTICE KENNEDY says that he "cannot comprehend" how the creche display could be invalid after Marsh, post, at 665, surely he is able to distinguish between a specifically Christian symbol, like a creche, and more general religious references, like the legislative prayers in Marsh.

    72

    [604] JUSTICE KENNEDY'S reading of Marsh would gut the core of the Establishment Clause, as this Court understands it. The history of this Nation, it is perhaps sad to say, contains numerous examples of official acts that endorsed Christianity specifically. See M. Borden, Jews, Turks, and Infidels (1984).[55] Some of these examples date back to the Founding of the Republic,[56] but this heritage of official discrimination [605] against non-Christians has no place in the jurisprudence of the Establishment Clause. Whatever else the Establishment Clause may mean (and we have held it to mean no official preference even for religion over nonreligion, see, e.g., Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1 (1989), it certainly means at the very least that government may not demonstrate a preference for one particular sect or creed (including a preference for Christianity over other religions). "The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228, 244 (1982). There have been breaches of this command throughout this Nation's history, but they cannot diminish in any way the force of the command. Cf. Laycock, supra, n. 39, at 923.[57]

    73
    B
    74

    Although JUSTICE KENNEDY'S misreading of Marsh is predicated on a failure to recognize the bedrock Establishment Clause principle that, regardless of history, government may not demonstrate a preference for a particular faith, even he is forced to acknowledge that some instances of such favoritism are constitutionally intolerable. Post, at 664-665, n. 3. He concedes also that the term "endorsement" long has been another way of defining a forbidden "preference" for [606] a particular sect, post, at 668-669, but he would repudiate the Court's endorsement inquiry as a "jurisprudence of minutiae," post, at 674, because it examines the particular contexts in which the government employs religious symbols.

    75

    This label, of course, could be tagged on many areas of constitutional adjudication. For example, in determining whether the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant and probable cause before the government may conduct a particular search or seizure, "we have not hesitated to balance the governmental and privacy interests to assess the practicality of the warrant and probable cause requirements in the particular context," Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn., 489 U. S. 602, 619 (1989) (emphasis added), an inquiry that " `depends on all of the circumstances surrounding the search or seizure and the nature of the search or seizure itself,' " ibid., quoting United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U. S. 531, 537 (1985); see also Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, 489 U. S. 656, 666 (1989) (repeating the principle that the applicability of the warrant requirement turns on "the particular context" of the search at issue). It is perhaps unfortunate, but nonetheless inevitable, that the broad language of many clauses within the Bill of Rights must be translated into adjudicatory principles that realize their full meaning only after their application to a series of concrete cases.

    76

    Indeed, not even under JUSTICE KENNEDY'S preferred approach can the Establishment Clause be transformed into an exception to this rule. The Justice would substitute the term "proselytization" for "endorsement," post, at 659-660, 661, 664, but his "proselytization" test suffers from the same "defect," if one must call it that, of requiring close factual analysis. JUSTICE KENNEDY has no doubt, "for example, that the [Establishment] Clause forbids a city to permit the permanent erection of a large Latin cross on the roof of city hall . . . because such an obtrusive year-round religious display [607] would place the government's weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion." Post, at 661. He also suggests that a city would demonstrate an unconstitutional preference for Christianity if it displayed a Christian symbol during every major Christian holiday but did not display the religious symbols of other faiths during other religious holidays. Post, at 664-665, n. 3. But, for JUSTICE KENNEDY, would it be enough of a preference for Christianity if that city each year displayed a creche for 40 days during the Christmas season and a cross for 40 days during Lent (and never the symbols of other religions)? If so, then what if there were no cross but the 40-day creche display contained a sign exhorting the city's citizens "to offer up their devotions to God their Creator, and his Son Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world"? See n. 53, supra.

    77

    The point of these rhetorical questions is obvious. In order to define precisely what government could and could not do under JUSTICE KENNEDY'S "proselytization" test, the Court would have to decide a series of cases with particular fact patterns that fall along the spectrum of government references to religion (from the permanent display of a cross atop city hall to a passing reference to divine Providence in an official address). If one wished to be "uncharitable" to JUSTICE KENNEDY, see post, at 675, one could say that his methodology requires counting the number of days during which the government displays Christian symbols and subtracting from this the number of days during which non-Christian symbols are displayed, divided by the number of different non-Christian religions represented in these displays, and then somehow factoring into this equation the prominence of the display's location and the degree to which each symbol possesses an inherently proselytizing quality. JUSTICE KENNEDY, of course, could defend his position by pointing to the inevitably fact-specific nature of the question whether a particular governmental practice signals the government's [608] unconstitutional preference for a specific religious faith. But because JUSTICE KENNEDY'S formulation of this essential Establishment Clause inquiry is no less fact intensive than the "endorsement" formulation adopted by the Court, JUSTICE KENNEDY should be wary of accusing the Court's formulation as "using little more than intuition and a tape measure," post, at 675, lest he find his own formulation convicted on an identical charge.

    78

    Indeed, perhaps the only real distinction between JUSTICE KENNEDY'S "proselytization" test and the Court's "endorsement" inquiry is a burden of "unmistakable" clarity that JUSTICE KENNEDY apparently would require of government favoritism for specific sects in order to hold the favoritism in violation of the Establishment Clause. Post, at 664-665, n. 3. The question whether a particular practice "would place the government's weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize for a particular religion," post, at 661, is much the same as whether the practice demonstrates the government's support, promotion, or "endorsement" of the particular creed of a particular sect — except to the extent that it requires an "obvious" allegiance between the government and the sect.[58]

    79

    Our cases, however, impose no such burden on demonstrating that the government has favored a particular sect or creed. On the contrary, we have expressly required "strict [609] scrutiny" of practices suggesting "a denominational preference," Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S., at 246, in keeping with " `the unwavering vigilance that the Constitution requires' " against any violation of the Establishment Clause. Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 623 (1988) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), quoting id., at 648 (dissenting opinion); see also Lynch, 465 U. S., at 694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring) ("[T]he myriad, subtle ways in which Establishment Clause values can be eroded" necessitates "careful judicial scrutiny" of "[g]overnment practices that purport to celebrate or acknowledge events with religious significance"). Thus, when all is said and done, JUSTICE KENNEDY'S effort to abandon the "endorsement" inquiry in favor of his "proselytization" test seems nothing more than an attempt to lower considerably the level of scrutiny in Establishment Clause cases. We choose, however, to adhere to the vigilance the Court has managed to maintain thus far, and to the endorsement inquiry that reflects our vigilance.[59]

    80
    [610] C
    81

    Although JUSTICE KENNEDY repeatedly accuses the Court of harboring a "latent hostility" or "callous indifference" toward religion, post, at 657, 664, nothing could be further from the truth, and the accusations could be said to be as offensive as they are absurd. JUSTICE KENNEDY apparently has misperceived a respect for religious pluralism, a respect commanded by the Constitution, as hostility or indifference to religion. No misperception could be more antithetical to the values embodied in the Establishment Clause.

    82

    JUSTICE KENNEDY'S accusations are shot from a weapon triggered by the following proposition: if government may celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas, then it must be allowed to celebrate the religious aspects as well because, otherwise, the government would be discriminating against citizens who celebrate Christmas as a religious, and not just a secular, holiday. Post, at 663-664. This proposition, however, is flawed at its foundation. The government does not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of the citizen's religious faith if the government is secular in its functions and operations. On the contrary, the Constitution mandates that the government remain secular, rather than affiliate itself with religious beliefs or institutions, precisely in order to avoid discriminating among citizens on the basis of their religious faiths.

    83

    A secular state, it must be remembered, is not the same as an atheistic or antireligious state. A secular state establishes neither atheism nor religion as its official creed. JUSTICE KENNEDY thus has it exactly backwards when he says that enforcing the Constitution's requirement that government [611] remain secular is a prescription of orthodoxy. Post, at 678. It follows directly from the Constitution's proscription against government affiliation with religious beliefs or institutions that there is no orthodoxy on religious matters in the secular state. Although JUSTICE KENNEDY accuses the Court of "an Orwellian rewriting of history," ibid., perhaps it is JUSTICE KENNEDY himself who has slipped into a form of Orwellian newspeak when he equates the constitutional command of secular government with a prescribed orthodoxy.

    84

    To be sure, in a pluralistic society there may be some would-be theocrats, who wish that their religion were an established creed, and some of them perhaps may be even audacious enough to claim that the lack of established religion discriminates against their preferences. But this claim gets no relief, for it contradicts the fundamental premise of the Establishment Clause itself. The antidiscrimination principle inherent in the Establishment Clause necessarily means that would-be discriminators on the basis of religion cannot prevail.

    85

    For this reason, the claim that prohibiting government from celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday discriminates against Christians in favor of nonadherents must fail. Celebrating Christmas as a religious, as opposed to a secular, holiday, necessarily entails professing, proclaiming, or believing that Jesus of Nazareth, born in a manager in Bethlehem, is the Christ, the Messiah. If the government celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday (for example, by issuing an official proclamation saying: "We rejoice in the glory of Christ's birth!"), it means that the government really is declaring Jesus to be the Messiah, a specifically Christian belief. In contrast, confining the government's own celebration of Christmas to the holiday's secular aspects does not favor the religious beliefs of non-Christians over those of Christians. Rather, it simply permits the government to acknowledge the holiday without expressing an allegiance to [612] Christian beliefs, an allegiance that would truly favor Christians over non-Christians. To be sure, some Christians may wish to see the government proclaim its allegiance to Christianity in a religious celebration of Christmas, but the Constitution does not permit the gratification of that desire, which would contradict the " `the logic of secular liberty' " it is the purpose of the Establishment Clause to protect. See Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S., at 244, quoting B. Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution 265 (1967).

    86

    Of course, not all religious celebrations of Christmas located on government property violate the Establishment Clause. It obviously is not unconstitutional, for example, for a group of parishioners from a local church to go caroling through a city park on any Sunday in Advent or for a Christian club at a public university to sing carols during their Christmas meeting. Cf. Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981).[60] The reason is that activities of this nature do not demonstrate the government's allegiance to, or endorsement of, the Christian faith.

    87

    Equally obvious, however, is the proposition that not all proclamations of Christian faith located on government property are permitted by the Establishment Clause just because they occur during the Christmas holiday season, as the example of a Mass in the courthouse surely illustrates. And once the judgment has been made that a particular proclamation of Christian belief, when disseminated from a particular location on government property, has the effect of demonstrating the government's endorsement of Christian faith, then it necessarily follows that the practice must be enjoined to protect the constitutional rights of those citizens who follow some creed other than Christianity. It is thus incontrovertible that the Court's decision today, premised on the determination that the creche display on the Grand Staircase demonstrates [613] the county's endorsement of Christianity, does not represent a hostility or indifference to religion but, instead, the respect for religious diversity that the Constitution requires.[61]

    88
    VI
    89

    The display of the Chanukah menorah in front of the City-County Building may well present a closer constitutional question. The menorah, one must recognize, is a religious symbol: it serves to commemorate the miracle of the oil as described in the Talmud. But the menorah's message is not exclusively religious. The menorah is the primary visual [614] symbol for a holiday that, like Christmas, has both religious and secular dimensions.[62]

    90

    Moreover, the menorah here stands next to a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty. While no challenge has been made here to the display of the tree and the sign, their presence is obviously relevant in determining the effect of the menorah's display. The necessary result of placing a menorah next to a Christmas tree is to create an "overall holiday setting" that represents both Christmas and Chanukah — two holidays, not one. See Lynch, 465 U. S., at 692 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

    91

    The mere fact that Pittsburgh displays symbols of both Christmas and Chanukah does not end the constitutional inquiry. If the city celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah as religious holidays, then it violates the Establishment Clause. [615] The simultaneous endorsement of Judaism and Christianity is no less constitutionally infirm than the endorsement of Christianity alone.[63]

    92

    Conversely, if the city celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah as secular holidays, then its conduct is beyond the reach of the Establishment Clause. Because government may celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday,[64] it follows that government may also acknowledge Chanukah as a secular holiday. Simply put, it would be a form of discrimination against Jews to allow Pittsburgh to celebrate Christmas as a cultural tradition while simultaneously disallowing the city's acknowledgment of Chanukah as a contemporaneous cultural tradition.[65]

    93

    [616] Accordingly, the relevant question for Establishment Clause purposes is whether the combined display of the tree, the sign, and the menorah has the effect of endorsing both Christian and Jewish faiths, or rather simply recognizes that both Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society. Of the two interpretations of this particular display, the latter seems far more plausible and is also in line with Lynch.[66]

    94

    The Christmas tree, unlike the menorah, is not itself a religious symbol. Although Christmas trees once carried religious connotations, today they typify the secular celebration of Christmas. See American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. St. Charles, 794 F. 2d 265, 271 (CA7), cert. denied, 479 U. S. 961 (1986); L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 1295 (2d ed. 1988) (Tribe).[67] Numerous Americans place [617] Christmas trees in their homes without subscribing to Christian religious beliefs, and when the city's tree stands alone in front of the City-County Building, it is not considered an endorsement of Christian faith. Indeed, a 40-foot Christmas tree was one of the objects that validated the creche in Lynch. The widely accepted view of the Christmas tree as the preeminent secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season serves to emphasize the secular component of the message communicated by other elements of an accompanying holiday display, including the Chanukah menorah.[68]

    95

    The tree, moreover, is clearly the predominant element in the city's display. The 45-foot tree occupies the central position beneath the middle archway in front of the Grant Street entrance to the City-County Building; the 18-foot menorah is positioned to one side. Given this configuration, it is much more sensible to interpret the meaning of the menorah in light of the tree, rather than vice versa. In the shadow of the tree, the menorah is readily understood as simply a recognition that Christmas is not the only traditional way of observing the winter-holiday season. In these circumstances, then, the combination of the tree and the menorah communicates, not a simultaneous endorsement of both the Christian [618] and Jewish faiths, but instead, a secular celebration of Christmas coupled with an acknowledgment of Chanukah as a contemporaneous alternative tradition.

    96

    Although the city has used a symbol with religious meaning as its representation of Chanukah, this is not a case in which the city has reasonable alternatives that are less religious in nature. It is difficult to imagine a predominantly secular symbol of Chanukah that the city could place next to its Christmas tree. An 18-foot dreidel would look out of place and might be interpreted by some as mocking the celebration of Chanukah. The absence of a more secular alternative symbol is itself part of the context in which the city's actions must be judged in determining the likely effect of its use of the menorah. Where the government's secular message can be conveyed by two symbols, only one of which carries religious meaning, an observer reasonably might infer from the fact that the government has chosen to use the religious symbol that the government means to promote religious faith. See Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 295 (BRENNAN, J., concurring) (Establishment Clause forbids use of religious means to serve secular ends when secular means suffice); see also Tribe 1285.[69] But where, as here, no such choice has been made, this inference of endorsement is not present.[70]

    97

    [619] The mayor's sign further diminishes the possibility that the tree and the menorah will be interpreted as a dual endorsement of Christianity and Judaism. The sign states that during the holiday season the city salutes liberty. Moreover, the sign draws upon the theme of light, common to both Chanukah and Christmas as winter festivals, and links that theme with this Nation's legacy of freedom, which allows an American to celebrate the holiday season in whatever way he wishes, religiously or otherwise. While no sign can disclaim an overwhelming message of endorsement, see Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S., at 41, an "explanatory plaque" may confirm that in particular contexts the government's association with a religious symbol does not represent the government's sponsorship of religious beliefs. See Lynch, 465 U. S., at 707 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). Here, the mayor's sign serves to confirm what the context already reveals: that the display of the menorah is not an endorsement of religious faith but simply a recognition of cultural diversity.

    98

    [620] Given all these considerations, it is not "sufficiently likely" that residents of Pittsburgh will perceive the combined display of the tree, the sign, and the menorah as an "endorsement" or "disapproval . . . of their individual religious choices." Grand Rapids, 473 U. S., at 390. While an adjudication of the display's effect must take into account the perspective of one who is neither Christian nor Jewish, as well as of those who adhere to either of these religions, ibid., the constitutionality of its effect must also be judged according to the standard of a "reasonable observer," see Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, 474 U. S. 481, 493 (1986) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); see also Tribe 1296 (challenged government practices should be judged "from the perspective of a `reasonable non-adherent' "). When measured against this standard, the menorah need not be excluded from this particular display. The Christmas tree alone in the Pittsburgh location does not endorse Christian belief; and, on the facts before us, the addition of the menorah "cannot fairly be understood to" result in the simultaneous endorsement of Christian and Jewish faiths. Lynch, 465 U. S., at 693 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). On the contrary, for purposes of the Establishment Clause, the city's overall display must be understood as conveying the city's secular recognition of different traditions for celebrating the winter-holiday season.[71]

    99

    The conclusion here that, in this particular context, the menorah's display does not have an effect of endorsing religious [621] faith does not foreclose the possibility that the display of the menorah might violate either the "purpose" or "entanglement" prong of the Lemon analysis. These issues were not addressed by the Court of Appeals and may be considered by that court on remand.[72]

    100
    VII
    101

    Lynch v. Donnelly confirms, and in no way repudiates, the longstanding constitutional principle that government may not engage in a practice that has the effect of promoting or endorsing religious beliefs. The display of the creche in the county courthouse has this unconstitutional effect. The display of the menorah in front of the City-County Building, however, does not have this effect, given its "particular physical setting."

    102

    The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings.

    103

    It is so ordered.

    104

    [622] [PAGE 622 IS ELECTRONICALLY NON-TRANSFERABLE.]

    105
    [623] JUSTICE O'CONNOR, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE STEVENS join as to Part II, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
    106
    I
    107

    Judicial review of government action under the Establishment Clause is a delicate task. The Court has avoided drawing lines which entirely sweep away all government recognition and acknowledgment of the role of religion in the lives of our citizens for to do so would exhibit not neutrality but hostility to religion. Instead the courts have made case-specific examinations of the challenged government action and have attempted to do so with the aid of the standards described by JUSTICE BLACKMUN in Part III-A of the Court's opinion. Ante, at 590-594. Unfortunately, even the development of articulable standards and guidelines has not always resulted in agreement among the Members of this Court on the results in individual cases. And so it is again today.

    108

    The constitutionality of the two displays at issue in these cases turns on how we interpret and apply the holding in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984), in which we rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to the city of Pawtucket's inclusion of a creche in its annual Christmas holiday display. The seasonal display reviewed in Lynch was located in a privately owned park in the heart of the shopping district. Id., at 671. In addition to the creche, the display included "a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cutout figures representing such characters as a clown, an elephant, and a teddy bear, hundreds of colored lights, [and] a large banner that rea[d] `SEASONS GREETINGS.' " Ibid. The city owned all the components of the display. Setting up and dismantling the creche cost the city about $20 a year, and nominal expenses were incurred in lighting the creche.

    109

    The Lynch Court began its analysis by stating that Establishment Clause cases call for careful line-drawing: "[N]o fixed, per se rule can be framed." Id., at 678. Although declaring [624] that it was not willing to be confined to any single test, the Court essentially applied the Lemon test, asking "whether the challenged law or conduct has a secular purpose, whether its principal or primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion, and whether it creates an excessive entanglement of government with religion." 465 U. S., at 679 (citing Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971)). In reversing the lower court's decision, which held that inclusion of the creche in the holiday display violated the Establishment Clause, the Court stressed that the lower court erred in "focusing almost exclusively on the creche." 465 U. S., at 680. "In so doing, it rejected the city's claim that its reasons for including the creche are essentially the same as its reasons for sponsoring the display as a whole." Ibid. When viewed in the "context of the Christmas Holiday season," the Court reasoned, there was insufficient evidence to suggest that inclusion of the creche as part of the holiday display was an effort to advocate a particular religious message. Ibid. The Court concluded that Pawtucket had a secular purpose for including the creche in its Christmas holiday display, namely, "to depict the origins of that Holiday." Id., at 681.

    110

    The Court also concluded that inclusion of the creche in the display did not have the primary effect of advancing religion. "[D]isplay of the creche is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the Congressional and Executive recognition of the origins of the Holiday itself as `Christ's Mass,' or the exhibition of literally hundreds of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums." Id., at 683. Finally, the Court found no excessive entanglement between religion and government. There was "no evidence of contact with church authorities concerning the content or design of the exhibit prior to or since Pawtucket's purchase of the creche." Id., at 684.

    111

    I joined the majority opinion in Lynch because, as I read that opinion, it was consistent with the analysis set forth in my separate concurrence, which stressed that "[e]very government [625] practice must be judged in its unique circumstances to determine whether it constitutes an endorsement or disapproval of religion." Id., at 694 (emphasis added). Indeed, by referring repeatedly to "inclusion of the creche" in the larger holiday display, id., at 671, 680-682, 686, the Lynch majority recognized that the creche had to be viewed in light of the total display of which it was a part. Moreover, I joined the Court's discussion in Part II of Lynch concerning government acknowledgments of religion in American life because, in my view, acknowledgments such as the legislative prayers upheld in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), and the printing of "In God We Trust" on our coins serve the secular purposes of "solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society." Lynch, 465 U. S., at 693 (concurring opinion). Because they serve such secular purposes and because of their "history and ubiquity," such government acknowledgments of religion are not understood as conveying an endorsement of particular religious beliefs. Ibid. At the same time, it is clear that "[g]overnment practices that purport to celebrate or acknowledge events with religious significance must be subjected to careful judicial scrutiny." Id., at 694.

    112

    In my concurrence in Lynch, I suggested a clarification of our Establishment Clause doctrine to reinforce the concept that the Establishment Clause "prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community." Id., at 687. The government violates this prohibition if it endorses or disapproves of religion. Id., at 688. "Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community." Ibid. Disapproval of religion conveys the opposite message. Thus, in my view, the central issue in Lynch was whether the city of Pawtucket had [626] endorsed Christianity by displaying a creche as part of a larger exhibit of traditional secular symbols of the Christmas holiday season.

    113

    In Lynch, I concluded that the city's display of a creche in its larger holiday exhibit in a private park in the commercial district had neither the purpose nor the effect of conveying a message of government endorsement of Christianity or disapproval of other religions. The purpose of including the creche in the larger display was to celebrate the public holiday through its traditional symbols, not to promote the religious content of the creche. Id., at 691. Nor, in my view, did Pawtucket's display of the creche along with secular symbols of the Christmas holiday objectively convey a message of endorsement of Christianity. Id., at 692.

    114

    For the reasons stated in Part IV of the Court's opinion in these cases, I agree that the creche displayed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the seat of county government, conveys a message to nonadherents of Christianity that they are not full members of the political community, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored members of the political community. In contrast to the creche in Lynch, which was displayed in a private park in the city's commercial district as part of a broader display of traditional secular symbols of the holiday season, this creche stands alone in the county courthouse. The display of religious symbols in public areas of core government buildings runs a special risk of "mak[ing] religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community." Lynch, supra, at 692 (concurring opinion). See also American Jewish Congress v. Chicago, 827 F. 2d 120, 128 (CA7 1987) ("Because City Hall is so plainly under government ownership and control, every display and activity in the building is implicitly marked with the stamp of government approval. The presence of a nativity scene in the lobby, therefore, inevitably creates a clear and strong impression that the local government tacitly endorses [627] Christianity"). The Court correctly concludes that placement of the central religious symbol of the Christmas holiday season at the Allegheny County Courthouse has the unconstitutional effect of conveying a government endorsement of Christianity.

    115
    II
    116

    In his separate opinion, JUSTICE KENNEDY asserts that the endorsement test "is flawed in its fundamentals and unworkable in practice." Post, at 669 (opinion concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). In my view, neither criticism is persuasive. As a theoretical matter, the endorsement test captures the essential command of the Establishment Clause, namely, that government must not make a person's religious beliefs relevant to his or her standing in the political community by conveying a message "that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 70 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment); School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 389 (1985). See also Beschle, The Conservative as Liberal: The Religion Clauses, Liberal Neutrality, and the Approach of Justice O'Connor, 62 Notre Dame L. Rev. 151 (1987); Note, Developments in the Law — Religion and the State, 100 Harv. L. Rev. 1606, 1647 (1987) (Developments in the Law). We live in a pluralistic society. Our citizens come from diverse religious traditions or adhere to no particular religious beliefs at all. If government is to be neutral in matters of religion, rather than showing either favoritism or disapproval towards citizens based on their personal religious choices, government cannot endorse the religious practices and beliefs of some citizens without sending a clear message to nonadherents that they are outsiders or less than full members of the political community.

    117

    An Establishment Clause standard that prohibits only "coercive" practices or overt efforts at government proselytization, post, at 659-662, 664-665, but fails to take account of the numerous more subtle ways that government can show favoritism [628] to particular beliefs or convey a message of disapproval to others, would not, in my view, adequately protect the religious liberty or respect the religious diversity of the members of our pluralistic political community. Thus, this Court has never relied on coercion alone as the touchstone of Establishment Clause analysis. See, e.g., Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 786 (1973) ("[W]hile proof of coercion might provide a basis for a claim under the Free Exercise Clause, it [is] not a necessary element of any claim under the Establishment Clause"); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 430 (1962). To require a showing of coercion, even indirect coercion, as an essential element of an Establishment Clause violation would make the Free Exercise Clause a redundancy. See Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 223 (1963) ("The distinction between the two clauses is apparent — a violation of the Free Exercise Clause is predicated on coercion while the Establishment Clause violation need not be so attended"). See also Laycock, "Nonpreferential" Aid to Religion: A False Claim About Original Intent, 27 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 875, 922 (1986) ("If coercion is also an element of the establishment clause, establishment adds nothing to free exercise"). Moreover, as even JUSTICE KENNEDY recognizes, any Establishment Clause test limited to "direct coercion" clearly would fail to account for forms of "[s]ymbolic recognition or accommodation of religious faith" that may violate the Establishment Clause. Post, at 661.

    118

    I continue to believe that the endorsement test asks the right question about governmental practices challenged on Establishment Clause grounds, including challenged practices involving the display of religious symbols. Moreover, commentators in the scholarly literature have found merit in the approach. See, e.g., Beschle, supra, at 174; Comment, Lemon Reconstituted: Justice O'Connor's Proposed Modifications of the Lemon Test for Establishment Clause Violations, 1986 B. Y. U. L. Rev. 465; Marshall, "We Know It When We [629] See It": The Supreme Court and Establishment, 59 S. Cal. L. Rev. 495 (1986); Developments in the Law 1647. I also remain convinced that the endorsement test is capable of consistent application. Indeed, it is notable that the three Courts of Appeals that have considered challenges to the display of a creche standing alone at city hall have each concluded, relying in part on endorsement analysis, that such a practice sends a message to nonadherents of Christianity that they are outsiders in the political community. See 842 F. 2d 655 (CA3 1988); American Jewish Congress v. Chicago, 827 F. 2d 120, 127-128 (CA7 1987); ACLU v. Birmingham, 791 F. 2d 1561, 1566-1567 (CA6), cert. denied, 479 U. S. 939 (1986). See also Friedman v. Board of County Commissioners of Bernalillo County, 781 F. 2d 777, 780-782 (CA10 1985) (en banc) (county seal including Latin cross and Spanish motto translated as "With This We Conquer," conveys a message of endorsement of Christianity), cert. denied, 476 U. S. 1169 (1986). To be sure, the endorsement test depends on a sensitivity to the unique circumstances and context of a particular challenged practice and, like any test that is sensitive to context, it may not always yield results with unanimous agreement at the margins. But that is true of many standards in constitutional law, and even the modified coercion test offered by JUSTICE KENNEDY involves judgment and hard choices at the margin. He admits as much by acknowledging that the permanent display of a Latin cross at city hall would violate the Establishment Clause, as would the display of symbols of Christian holidays alone. Post, at 661, 664-665, n. 3. Would the display of a Latin cross for six months have such an unconstitutional effect, or the display of the symbols of most Christian holidays and one Jewish holiday? Would the Christmastime display of a creche inside a courtroom be "coercive" if subpoenaed witnesses had no opportunity to "turn their backs" and walk away? Post, at 664. Would displaying a creche in front of a public school violate the Establishment Clause under JUSTICE KENNEDY'S test? [630] We cannot avoid the obligation to draw lines, often close and difficult lines, in deciding Establishment Clause cases, and that is not a problem unique to the endorsement test.

    119

    JUSTICE KENNEDY submits that the endorsement test is inconsistent with our precedents and traditions because, in his words, if it were "applied without artificial exceptions for historical practice," it would invalidate many traditional practices recognizing the role of religion in our society. Post, at 670. This criticism shortchanges both the endorsement test itself and my explanation of the reason why certain longstanding government acknowledgments of religion do not, under that test, convey a message of endorsement. Practices such as legislative prayers or opening Court sessions with "God save the United States and this honorable Court" serve the secular purposes of "solemnizing public occasions" and "expressing confidence in the future," Lynch, 465 U. S., at 693 (concurring opinion). These examples of ceremonial deism do not survive Establishment Clause scrutiny simply by virtue of their historical longevity alone. Historical acceptance of a practice does not in itself validate that practice under the Establishment Clause if the practice violates the values protected by that Clause, just as historical acceptance of racial or gender based discrimination does not immunize such practices from scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment. As we recognized in Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S. 664, 678 (1970): "[N]o one acquires a vested or protected right in violation of the Constitution by long use, even when that span of time covers our entire national existence and indeed predates it."

    120

    Under the endorsement test, the "history and ubiquity" of a practice is relevant not because it creates an "artificial exception" from that test. On the contrary, the "history and ubiquity" of a practice is relevant because it provides part of the context in which a reasonable observer evaluates whether a challenged governmental practice conveys a message of endorsement of religion. It is the combination of the [631] longstanding existence of practices such as opening legislative sessions with legislative prayers or opening Court sessions with "God save the United States and this honorable Court," as well as their nonsectarian nature, that leads me to the conclusion that those particular practices, despite their religious roots, do not convey a message of endorsement of particular religious beliefs. See Lynch, supra, at 693 (concurring opinion); Developments in the Law 1652-1654. Similarly, the celebration of Thanksgiving as a public holiday, despite its religious origins, is now generally understood as a celebration of patriotic values rather than particular religious beliefs. The question under endorsement analysis, in short, is whether a reasonable observer would view such longstanding practices as a disapproval of his or her particular religious choices, in light of the fact that they serve a secular purpose rather than a sectarian one and have largely lost their religious significance over time. See L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 1294-1296 (2d ed. 1988). Although the endorsement test requires careful and often difficult line-drawing and is highly context specific, no alternative test has been suggested that captures the essential mandate of the Establishment Clause as well as the endorsement test does, and it warrants continued application and refinement.

    121

    Contrary to JUSTICE KENNEDY'S assertions, neither the endorsement test nor its application in these cases reflects "an unjustified hostility toward religion." Post, at 655. See also post, at 663, 667-678. Instead, the endorsement standard recognizes that the religious liberty so precious to the citizens who make up our diverse country is protected, not impeded, when government avoids endorsing religion or favoring particular beliefs over others. Clearly, the government can acknowledge the role of religion in our society in numerous ways that do not amount to an endorsement. See Lynch, supra, at 693 (concurring opinion). Moreover, the government can accommodate religion by lifting government-imposed burdens on religion. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 [632] U. S., at 83-84 (opinion concurring in judgment). Indeed, the Free Exercise Clause may mandate that it do so in particular cases. In cases involving the lifting of government burdens on the free exercise of religion, a reasonable observer would take into account the values underlying the Free Exercise Clause in assessing whether the challenged practice conveyed a message of endorsement. Id., at 83. By "build[ing] on the concerns at the core of nonestablishment doctrine and recogniz[ing] the role of accommodations in furthering free exercise," the endorsement test "provides a standard capable of consistent application and avoids the criticism levelled against the Lemon test." Rostain, Permissible Accommodations of Religion: Reconsidering the New York Get Statute, 96 Yale L. J. 1147, 1159-1160 (1987). The cases before the Court today, however, do not involve lifting a governmental burden on the free exercise of religion. By repeatedly using the terms "acknowledgment" of religion and "accommodation" of religion interchangeably, however, post, at 662-664, 670, 678, JUSTICE KENNEDY obscures the fact that the displays at issue in these cases were not placed at city hall in order to remove a government-imposed burden on the free exercise of religion. Christians remain free to display their creches at their homes and churches. Ante, at 601, n. 51. Allegheny County has neither placed nor removed a governmental burden on the free exercise of religion but rather, for the reasons stated in Part IV of the Court's opinion, has conveyed a message of governmental endorsement of Christian beliefs. This the Establishment Clause does not permit.

    122
    III
    123

    For reasons which differ somewhat from those set forth in Part VI of JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion, I also conclude that the city of Pittsburgh's combined holiday display of a Chanukah menorah, a Christmas tree, and a sign saluting liberty does not have the effect of conveying an endorsement of religion. I agree with JUSTICE BLACKMUN, ante, at 616-617, [633] that the Christmas tree, whatever its origins, is not regarded today as a religious symbol. Although Christmas is a public holiday that has both religious and secular aspects, the Christmas tree is widely viewed as a secular symbol of the holiday, in contrast to the creche which depicts the holiday's religious dimensions. A Christmas tree displayed in front of city hall, in my view, cannot fairly be understood as conveying government endorsement of Christianity. Although JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion acknowledges that a Christmas tree alone conveys no endorsement of Christian beliefs, it formulates the question posed by Pittsburgh's combined display of the tree and the menorah as whether the display "has the effect of endorsing both Christian and Jewish faiths, or rather simply recognizes that both Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society." Ante, at 616 (emphasis added).

    124

    That formulation of the question disregards the fact that the Christmas tree is a predominantly secular symbol and, more significantly, obscures the religious nature of the menorah and the holiday of Chanukah. The opinion is correct to recognize that the religious holiday of Chanukah has historical and cultural as well as religious dimensions, and that there may be certain "secular aspects" to the holiday. But that is not to conclude, however, as JUSTICE BLACKMUN seems to do, that Chanukah has become a "secular holiday" in our society. Ante, at 615. The Easter holiday celebrated by Christians may be accompanied by certain "secular aspects" such as Easter bunnies and Easter egg hunts; but it is nevertheless a religious holiday. Similarly, Chanukah is a religious holiday with strong historical components particularly important to the Jewish people. Moreover, the menorah is the central religious symbol and ritual object of that religious holiday. Under JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S view, however, the menorah "has been relegated to the role of a neutral harbinger of the holiday season," Lynch, 465 U. S., at 727 [634] (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting), almost devoid of any religious significance. In my view, the relevant question for Establishment Clause purposes is whether the city of Pittsburgh's display of the menorah, the religious symbol of a religious holiday, next to a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty sends a message of government endorsement of Judaism or whether it sends a message of pluralism and freedom to choose one's own beliefs.

    125

    In characterizing the message conveyed by this display as either a "double endorsement" or a secular acknowledgment of the winter holiday season, the opinion states that "[i]t is distinctly implausible to view the combined display of the tree, the sign, and the menorah as endorsing Jewish faith alone." Ante, at 616, n. 64. That statement, however, seems to suggest that it would be implausible for the city to endorse a faith adhered to by a minority of the citizenry. Regardless of the plausibility of a putative governmental purpose, the more important inquiry here is whether the governmental display of a minority faith's religious symbol could ever reasonably be understood to convey a message of endorsement of that faith. A menorah standing alone at city hall may well send such a message to nonadherents, just as in this case the creche standing alone at the Allegheny County Courthouse sends a message of governmental endorsement of Christianity, whatever the county's purpose in authorizing the display may have been. Thus, the question here is whether Pittsburgh's holiday display conveys a message of endorsement of Judaism, when the menorah is the only religious symbol in the combined display and when the opinion acknowledges that the tree cannot reasonably be understood to convey an endorsement of Christianity. One need not characterize Chanukah as a "secular" holiday or strain to argue that the menorah has a "secular" dimension, ante, at 587, n. 34, in order to conclude that the city of Pittsburgh's combined display does not convey a message of endorsement of Judaism or of religion in general.

    126

    [635] In setting up its holiday display, which included the lighted tree and the menorah, the city of Pittsburgh stressed the theme of liberty and pluralism by accompanying the exhibit with a sign bearing the following message: " `During this holiday season, the city of Pittsburgh salutes liberty. Let these festive lights remind us that we are the keepers of the flame of liberty and our legacy of freedom.' " Ante, at 582. This sign indicates that the city intended to convey its own distinctive message of pluralism and freedom. By accompanying its display of a Christmas tree — a secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season — with a salute to liberty, and by adding a religious symbol from a Jewish holiday also celebrated at roughly the same time of year, I conclude that the city did not endorse Judaism or religion in general, but rather conveyed a message of pluralism and freedom of belief during the holiday season. "Although the religious and indeed sectarian significance" of the menorah "is not neutralized by the setting," Lynch, 465 U. S., at 692 (concurring opinion), this particular physical setting "changes what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display — as a typical museum setting, though not neutralizing the religious content of a religious painting, negates any message of endorsement of that content." Ibid.

    127

    The message of pluralism conveyed by the city's combined holiday display is not a message that endorses religion over nonreligion. Just as government may not favor particular religious beliefs over others, "government may not favor religious belief over disbelief." Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1, 27 (1989) (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in judgment); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 52-54; id., at 70 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). Here, by displaying a secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season rather than a religious one, the city acknowledged a public holiday celebrated by both religious and nonreligious citizens alike, and it did so without endorsing Christian beliefs. A reasonable observer would, in my view, appreciate that the combined [636] display is an effort to acknowledge the cultural diversity of our country and to convey tolerance of different choices in matters of religious belief or nonbelief by recognizing that the winter holiday season is celebrated in diverse ways by our citizens. In short, in the holiday context, this combined display in its particular physical setting conveys neither an endorsement of Judaism or Christianity nor disapproval of alternative beliefs, and thus does not have the impermissible effect of "mak[ing] religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community." Lynch, supra, at 692 (concurring opinion).

    128

    My conclusion does not depend on whether or not the city had "a more secular alternative symbol" of Chanukah, ante, at 618, just as the Court's decision in Lynch clearly did not turn on whether the city of Pawtucket could have conveyed its tribute to the Christmas holiday season by using a "less religious" alternative to the creche symbol in its display of traditional holiday symbols. See Lynch, supra, at 681, n. 7 ("JUSTICE BRENNAN argues that the city's objectives could have been achieved without including the creche in the display, [465 U. S.,] at 699. True or not, that is irrelevant. The question is whether the display of the creche violates the Establishment Clause"). In my view, JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S new rule, ante, at 618, that an inference of endorsement arises every time government uses a symbol with religious meaning if a "more secular alternative" is available is too blunt an instrument for Establishment Clause analysis, which depends on sensitivity to the context and circumstances presented by each case. Indeed, the opinion appears to recognize the importance of this contextual sensitivity by creating an exception to its new rule in the very case announcing it: the opinion acknowledges that "a purely secular symbol" of Chanukah is available, namely, a dreidel or four-sided top, but rejects the use of such a symbol because it "might be interpreted by some as mocking the celebration of Chanukah." Ibid. This recognition that the more religious [637] alternative may, depending on the circumstances, convey a message that is least likely to implicate Establishment Clause concerns is an excellent example of the need to focus on the specific practice in question in its particular physical setting and context in determining whether government has conveyed or attempted to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.

    129

    In sum, I conclude that the city of Pittsburgh's combined holiday display had neither the purpose nor the effect of endorsing religion, but that Allegheny County's creche display had such an effect. Accordingly, I join Parts I, II, III-A, IV, V, and VII of the Court's opinion and concur in the judgment.

    130
    JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL and JUSTICE STEVENS join, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
    131

    I have previously explained at some length my views on the relationship between the Establishment Clause and government-sponsored celebrations of the Christmas holiday. See Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 694-726 (1984) (dissenting opinion). I continue to believe that the display of an object that "retains a specifically Christian [or other] religious meaning," id., at 708, is incompatible with the separation of church and state demanded by our Constitution. I therefore agree with the Court that Allegheny County's display of a creche at the county courthouse signals an endorsement of the Christian faith in violation of the Establishment Clause, and join Parts III-A, IV, and V of the Court's opinion. I cannot agree, however, that the city's display of a 45-foot Christmas tree and an 18-foot Chanukah menorah at the entrance to the building housing the mayor's office shows no favoritism towards Christianity, Judaism, or both. Indeed, I should have thought that the answer as to the first display supplied the answer to the second.

    132

    According to the Court, the creche display sends a message endorsing Christianity because the creche itself bears a [638] religious meaning, because an angel in the display carries a banner declaring "Glory to God in the highest!," and because the floral decorations surrounding the creche highlight it rather than secularize it. The display of a Christmas tree and Chanukah menorah, in contrast, is said to show no endorsement of a particular faith or faiths, or of religion in general, because the Christmas tree is a secular symbol which brings out the secular elements of the menorah. Ante, at 616-617. And, JUSTICE BLACKMUN concludes, even though the menorah has religious aspects, its display reveals no endorsement of religion because no other symbol could have been used to represent the secular aspects of the holiday of Chanukah without mocking its celebration. Ante, at 618. Rather than endorsing religion, therefore, the display merely demonstrates that "Christmas is not the only traditional way of observing the winter-holiday season," and confirms our "cultural diversity." Ante, at 617, 619.

    133

    Thus, the decision as to the menorah rests on three premises: the Christmas tree is a secular symbol; Chanukah is a holiday with secular dimensions, symbolized by the menorah; and the government may promote pluralism by sponsoring or condoning displays having strong religious associations on its property. None of these is sound.

    134
    I
    135

    The first step toward JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S conclusion is the claim that, despite its religious origins, the Christmas tree is a secular symbol. He explains:

    136
    "The Christmas tree, unlike the menorah, is not itself a religious symbol. Although Christmas trees once carried religious connotations, today they typify the secular celebration of Christmas. Numerous Americans place Christmas trees in their homes without subscribing to Christian religious beliefs, and when the city's tree stands alone in front of the City-County Building, it is not considered an endorsement of Christian faith. Indeed, [639] a 40-foot Christmas tree was one of the objects that validated the creche in Lynch. The widely accepted view of the Christmas tree as the preeminent secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season serves to emphasize the secular component of the message communicated by other elements of an accompanying holiday display, including the Chanukah menorah." Ante, at 616-617 (citations and footnotes omitted).
    137

    JUSTICE O'CONNOR accepts this view of the Christmas tree because, "whatever its origins, [it] is not regarded today as a religious symbol. Although Christmas is a public holiday that has both religious and secular aspects, the Christmas tree is widely viewed as a secular symbol of the holiday, in contrast to the creche which depicts the holiday's religious dimensions." Ante, at 633.

    138

    Thus, while acknowledging the religious origins of the Christmas tree, JUSTICES BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR dismiss their significance. In my view, this attempt to take the "Christmas" out of the Christmas tree is unconvincing. That the tree may, without controversy, be deemed a secular symbol if found alone does not mean that it will be so seen when combined with other symbols or objects. Indeed, JUSTICE BLACKMUN admits that "the tree is capable of taking on a religious significance if it is decorated with religious symbols." Ante, at 617, n. 65.

    139

    The notion that the Christmas tree is necessarily secular is, indeed, so shaky that, despite superficial acceptance of the idea, JUSTICE O'CONNOR does not really take it seriously. While conceding that the "menorah standing alone at city hall may well send" a message of endorsement of the Jewish faith, she nevertheless concludes: "By accompanying its display of a Christmas tree — a secular symbol of the Christmas holiday season — with a salute to liberty, and by adding a religious symbol from a Jewish holiday also celebrated at roughly the same time of year, I conclude that the city did not endorse Judaism or religion in general, but rather conveyed a message [640] of pluralism and freedom of belief during the holiday season." Ante, at 635. But the "pluralism" to which JUSTICE O'CONNOR refers is religious pluralism, and the "freedom of belief" she emphasizes is freedom of religious belief.[73] The display of the tree and the menorah will symbolize such pluralism and freedom only if more than one religion is represented; if only Judaism is represented, the scene is about Judaism, not about pluralism. Thus, the pluralistic message JUSTICE O'CONNOR stresses depends on the tree's possessing some religious significance.

    140

    In asserting that the Christmas tree, regardless of its surroundings, is a purely secular symbol, JUSTICES BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR ignore the precept they otherwise so enthusiastically embrace: that context is all important in determining the message conveyed by particular objects. See ante, at 597 (BLACKMUN, J.) (relevant question is "whether the [641] display of the creche and the menorah, in their respective `particular physical settings,' has the effect of endorsing or disapproving religious beliefs") (quoting School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 390 (1985)); ante, at 624 (O'CONNOR, J.) (" `[E]very government practice must be judged in its unique circumstances to determine whether it constitutes an endorsement or disapproval of religion' ") (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring)); ante, at 636 (O'CONNOR, J.) ("Establishment Clause analysis . . . depends on sensitivity to the context and circumstances presented by each case"); ante, at 637 (O'CONNOR, J.) (emphasizing "the need to focus on the specific practice in question in its particular physical setting and context"). In analyzing the symbolic character of the Christmas tree, both JUSTICES BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR abandon this contextual inquiry. In doing so, they go badly astray.

    141

    Positioned as it was, the Christmas tree's religious significance was bound to come to the fore. Situated next to the menorah — which, JUSTICE BLACKMUN acknowledges, is "a symbol with religious meaning," ante, at 618, and indeed, is "the central religious symbol and ritual object of" Chanukah, ante, at 633 (O'CONNOR, J.) — the Christmas tree's religious dimension could not be overlooked by observers of the display. Even though the tree alone may be deemed predominantly secular, it can hardly be so characterized when placed next to such a forthrightly religious symbol. Consider a poster featuring a star of David, a statute of Buddha, a Christmas tree, a mosque, and a drawing of Krishna. There can be no doubt that, when found in such company, the tree serves as an unabashedly religious symbol.

    142

    JUSTICE BLACKMUN believes that it is the tree that changes the message of the menorah, rather than the menorah that alters our view of the tree. After the abrupt dismissal of the suggestion that the flora surrounding the creche might have diluted the religious character of the display at the county courthouse, ante, at 599, his quick conclusion that [642] the Christmas tree had a secularizing effect on the menorah is surprising. The distinguishing characteristic, it appears, is the size of the tree. The tree, we are told, is much taller — 2 1/2 times taller, in fact — than the menorah, and is located directly under one of the building's archways, whereas the menorah "is positioned to one side . . . [i]n the shadow of the tree." Ante, at 617.

    143

    As a factual matter, it seems to me that the sight of an 18-foot menorah would be far more eye catching than that of a rather conventionally sized Christmas tree. It also seems to me likely that the symbol with the more singular message will predominate over one lacking such a clear meaning. Given the homogenized message that JUSTICE BLACKMUN associates with the Christmas tree, I would expect that the menorah, with its concededly religious character, would tend to dominate the tree. And, though JUSTICE BLACKMUN shunts the point to a footnote at the end of his opinion, ante, at 621, n. 70, it is highly relevant that the menorah was lit during a religious ceremony complete with traditional religious blessings. I do not comprehend how the failure to challenge separately this portion of the city's festivities precludes us from considering it in assessing the message sent by the display as a whole. But see ibid. With such an openly religious introduction, it is most likely that the religious aspects of the menorah would be front and center in this display.

    144

    I would not, however, presume to say that my interpretation of the tree's significance is the "correct" one, or the one shared by most visitors to the City County Building. I do not know how we can decide whether it was the tree that stripped the religious connotations from the menorah, or the menorah that laid bare the religious origins of the tree. Both are reasonable interpretations of the scene the city presented, and thus both, I think, should satisfy JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S requirement that the display "be judged according to the standard of a `reasonable observer.' " Ante, at 620. I [643] shudder to think that the only "reasonable observer" is one who shares the particular views on perspective, spacing, and accent expressed in JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion, thus making analysis under the Establishment Clause look more like an exam in Art 101 than an inquiry into constitutional law.

    145
    II
    146

    The second premise on which today's decision rests is the notion that Chanukah is a partly secular holiday, for which the menorah can serve as a secular symbol. It is no surprise and no anomaly that Chanukah has historical and societal roots that range beyond the purely religious. I would venture that most, if not all, major religious holidays have beginnings and enjoy histories studded with figures, events, and practices that are not strictly religious. It does not seem to me that the mere fact that Chanukah shares this kind of background makes it a secular holiday in any meaningful sense. The menorah is indisputably a religious symbol, used ritually in a celebration that has deep religious significance. That, in my view, is all that need be said. Whatever secular practices the holiday of Chanukah has taken on in its contemporary observance are beside the point.

    147

    Indeed, at the very outset of his discussion of the menorah display, JUSTICE BLACKMUN recognizes that the menorah is a religious symbol. Ante, at 613. That should have been the end of the case. But, as did the Court in Lynch, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, "by focusing on the holiday `context' in which the [menorah] appeared, seeks to explain away the clear religious import of the [menorah] . . . ." 465 U. S., at 705 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). By the end of the opinion, the menorah has become but a coequal symbol, with the Christmas tree, of "the winter-holiday season." Ante, at 620. Pittsburgh's secularization of an inherently religious symbol, aided and abetted here by JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion, recalls the effort in Lynch to render the creche a secular symbol. As I said then: "To suggest, as the Court does, that such a symbol [644] is merely `traditional' and therefore no different from Santa's house or reindeer is not only offensive to those for whom the creche has profound significance, but insulting to those who insist for religious or personal reasons that the story of Christ is in no sense a part of `history' nor an unavoidable element of our national `heritage.' " 465 U. S., at 711-712. As JUSTICE O'CONNOR rightly observes, JUSTICE BLACKMUN "obscures the religious nature of the menorah and the holiday of Chanukah." Ante, at 633.

    148

    I cannot, in short, accept the effort to transform an emblem of religious faith into the innocuous "symbol for a holiday that . . . has both religious and secular dimensions." Ante, at 614 (BLACKMUN, J.).

    149
    III
    150

    JUSTICE BLACKMUN, in his acceptance of the city's message of "diversity," ante, at 619, and, even more so, JUSTICE O'CONNOR, in her approval of the "message of pluralism and freedom to choose one's own beliefs," ante, at 634, appear to believe that, where seasonal displays are concerned, more is better. Whereas a display might be constitutionally problematic if it showcased the holiday of just one religion, those problems vaporize as soon as more than one religion is included. I know of no principle under the Establishment Clause, however, that permits us to conclude that governmental promotion of religion is acceptable so long as one religion is not favored. We have, on the contrary, interpreted that Clause to require neutrality, not just among religions, but between religion and nonreligion. See, e.g., Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 15 (1947); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 52-54 (1985).

    151

    Nor do I discern the theory under which the government is permitted to appropriate particular holidays and religious objects to its own use in celebrating "pluralism." The message of the sign announcing a "Salute to Liberty" is not religious, but patriotic; the government's use of religion to promote its [645] own cause is undoubtedly offensive to those whose religious beliefs are not bound up with their attitude toward the Nation.

    152

    The uncritical acceptance of a message of religious pluralism also ignores the extent to which even that message may offend. Many religious faiths are hostile to each other, and indeed, refuse even to participate in ecumenical services designed to demonstrate the very pluralism JUSTICES BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR extol. To lump the ritual objects and holidays of religions together without regard to their attitudes toward such inclusiveness, or to decide which religions should be excluded because of the possibility of offense, is not a benign or beneficent celebration of pluralism: it is instead an interference in religious matters precluded by the Establishment Clause.

    153

    The government-sponsored display of the menorah alongside a Christmas tree also works a distortion of the Jewish religious calendar. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN acknowledges, "the proximity of Christmas [may] accoun[t] for the social prominence of Chanukah in this country." Ante, at 586. It is the proximity of Christmas that undoubtedly accounts for the city's decision to participate in the celebration of Chanukah, rather than the far more significant Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Contrary to the impression the city and JUSTICES BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR seem to create, with their emphasis on "the winter-holiday season," December is not the holiday season for Judaism. Thus, the city's erection alongside the Christmas tree of the symbol of a relatively minor Jewish religious holiday, far from conveying "the city's secular recognition of different traditions for celebrating the winter-holiday season," ante, at 620 (BLACKMUN, J.), or "a message of pluralism and freedom of belief," ante, at 635 (O'CONNOR, J.), has the effect of promoting a Christianized version of Judaism. The holiday calendar they appear willing to accept revolves exclusively around a Christian holiday. And those religions that have [646] no holiday at all during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day will not benefit, even in a second-class manner, from the city's once-a-year tribute to "liberty" and "freedom of belief." This is not "pluralism" as I understand it.

    154
    JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
    155

    Governmental recognition of not one but two religions distinguishes these cases from our prior Establishment Clause cases. It is, therefore, appropriate to reexamine the text and context of the Clause to determine its impact on this novel situation.

    156

    Relations between church and state at the end of the 1780's fell into two quite different categories. In several European countries, one national religion, such as the Church of England in Great Britain, was established. The established church typically was supported by tax revenues, by laws conferring privileges only upon members, and sometimes by violent persecution of nonadherents. In contrast, although several American Colonies had assessed taxes to support one chosen faith, none of the newly United States subsidized a single religion. Some States had repealed establishment laws altogether, while others had replaced single establishments with laws providing for nondiscriminatory support of more than one religion.[74]

    157

    [647] It is against this historical backdrop that James Madison, then a Representative from Virginia, rose to the floor of the First Congress on June 8, 1789, and proposed a number of amendments to the Constitution, including the following:

    158
    "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed." 1 Annals of Cong. 434 (1789) (emphasis added).
    159

    Congressional debate produced several reformulations of the italicized language.[75] One Member suggested the words "Congress shall make no laws touching religion," id., at 731 (emphasis added), soon amended to "Congress shall make no law establishing religion," id., at 766 (emphasis added). After further alteration, this passage became one of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. Ratified in 1791, they state that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," U. S. Const., Amdt. 1 (emphasis added).

    160

    By its terms the initial draft of the Establishment Clause would have prohibited only the national established church that prevailed in England; multiple establishments, such as existed in six States, would have been permitted. But even [648] in those States and even among members of the established churches, there was widespread opposition to multiple establishments because of the social divisions they caused.[76] Perhaps in response to this opposition, subsequent drafts broadened the scope of the Establishment Clause from "any national religion" to "religion," a word understood primarily to mean "[v]irtue, as founded upon reverence of God, and expectation of future rewards and punishments," and only secondarily "[a] system of divine faith and worship, as opposite to others." S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (7th ed. 1785); accord, T. Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the English Language (6th ed. 1796). Cf. Frazee v. Illinois Dept. of Employment Security, 489 U. S. 829, 834 (1989) (construing "religion" protected by Free Exercise [649] Clause to include "sincerely held religious belief" apart from "membership in an organized religious denomination"). Plainly, the Clause as ratified proscribes federal legislation establishing a number of religions as well as a single national church.[77]

    161

    Similarly expanded was the relationship between government and religion that was to be disallowed. Whereas earlier drafts had barred only laws "establishing" or "touching" religion, the final text interdicts all laws "respecting an establishment of religion." This phrase forbids even a partial establishment, Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612 (1971); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 436 (1962), not only of a particular sect in favor of others, but also of religion in preference to nonreligion, Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 52 (1985). It is also significant that the final draft contains the word "respecting." Like "touching," "respecting" means concerning, or with reference to. But it also means with respect — that is, "reverence," "good will," "regard" — to.[78] Taking into account this richer meaning, the Establishment Clause, in banning laws that concern religion, especially prohibits those that pay homage to religion.

    162

    Treatment of a symbol of a particular tradition demonstrates one's attitude toward that tradition. Cf. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397 (1989). Thus the prominent display of religious symbols on government property falls within the compass of the First Amendment, even though interference with personal choices about supporting a church, by means of governmental tithing, was the primary concern in 1791. See Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S. 664, 668 (1970); n. 3, supra. Whether the vice in such a display is [650] characterized as "coercion," see post, at 660-661 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part), or "endorsement," see ante, at 625 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment), or merely as state action with the purpose and effect of providing support for specific faiths, cf. Lemon, 403 U. S., at 612, it is common ground that this symbolic governmental speech "respecting an establishment of religion" may violate the Constitution.[79] Cf. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 60-61; Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984).

    163

    In my opinion the Establishment Clause should be construed to create a strong presumption against the display of religious symbols on public property.[80] There is always a [651] risk that such symbols will offend nonmembers of the faith being advertised as well as adherents who consider the particular advertisement disrespectful. Some devout Christians believe that the creche should be placed only in reverential settings, such as a church or perhaps a private home; they do not countenance its use as an aid to commercialization of Christ's birthday. Cf. Lynch, 465 U. S., at 726-727 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting).[81] In this very suit, members of the Jewish faith firmly opposed the use to which the menorah was put by the particular sect that sponsored the display at Pittsburgh's City-County Building.[82] Even though "[p]assersby who disagree with the message conveyed by these displays are free to ignore them, or even to turn their backs," see post, at 664 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part), displays of this kind inevitably have a greater tendency to emphasize sincere and deeply felt differences among individuals than to achieve an ecumenical goal. The Establishment Clause does not allow public bodies to foment such disagreement.[83]

    164

    [652] Application of a strong presumption against the public use of religious symbols scarcely will "require a relentless extirpation of all contact between government and religion," see post, at 657 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part),[84] for it will prohibit a display only when its message, evaluated in the context in which it is presented, is nonsecular.[85] For example, a carving of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, if that is the only adornment on a courtroom wall, conveys an equivocal message, perhaps of respect for Judaism, for religion in general, or for law. The addition of carvings depicting Confucius and Mohammed may honor religion, or particular religions, to an extent that the First Amendment does not tolerate any more than it does "the permanent erection of a large Latin cross on the roof of city hall." See post, at 661 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). Cf. Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam). Placement of secular figures such as Caesar Augustus, William Blackstone, Napoleon Bonaparte, and John Marshall alongside these three religious leaders, however, signals respect not [653] for great proselytizers but for great lawgivers. It would be absurd to exclude such a fitting message from a courtroom,[86] as it would to exclude religious paintings by Italian Renaissance masters from a public museum. Cf. Lynch, 465 U. S., at 712-713, 717 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). Far from "border[ing] on latent hostility toward religion," see post, at 657 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part), this careful consideration of context gives due regard to religious and nonreligious members of our society.[87]

    165

    Thus I find wholly unpersuasive JUSTICE KENNEDY'S attempts, post, at 664-667, to belittle the importance of the obvious differences between the display of the creche in this case and that in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984). Even if I had not dissented from the Court's conclusion that the creche in Lynch was constitutional, I would conclude that Allegheny County's unambiguous exposition of a sacred symbol inside its courthouse promoted Christianity to a degree [654] that violated the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, I concur in the Court's judgment regarding the creche for substantially the same reasons discussed in JUSTICE BRENNAN'S opinion, which I join, as well as Part IV of JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion and Part I of JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S opinion.

    166

    I cannot agree with the Court's conclusion that the display at Pittsburgh's City-County Building was constitutional. Standing alone in front of a governmental headquarters, a lighted, 45-foot evergreen tree might convey holiday greetings linked too tenuously to Christianity to have constitutional moment. Juxtaposition of this tree with an 18-foot menorah does not make the latter secular, as JUSTICE BLACKMUN contends, ante, at 616. Rather, the presence of the Chanukah menorah, unquestionably a religious symbol,[88] gives religious significance to the Christmas tree. The overall display thus manifests governmental approval of the Jewish and Christian religions. Cf. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 60-61 (quoting Lynch, 465 U. S., at 690-691 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring)). [655A] Although it conceivably might be interpreted as sending "a message of pluralism and freedom to choose one's own beliefs," ante, at 634 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); accord, ante, at 617-618 (opinion of BLACKMUN, J.), the message is not sufficiently clear to overcome the strong presumption that the display, respecting two religions to the exclusion of all others, is the very kind of double establishment that the First Amendment was designed to outlaw. I would, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals in its entirety.

    167
    [655B] JUSTICE KENNEDY, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE SCALIA join, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.
    168

    The majority holds that the County of Allegheny violated the Establishment Clause by displaying a creche in the county courthouse, because the "principal or primary effect" of the display is to advance religion within the meaning of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612-613 (1971). This view of the Establishment Clause reflects an unjustified hostility toward religion, a hostility inconsistent with our history and our precedents, and I dissent from this holding. The creche display is constitutional, and, for the same reasons, the display of a menorah by the city of Pittsburgh is permissible as well. On this latter point, I concur in the result, but not the reasoning, of Part VI of JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion.

    169
    I
    170

    In keeping with the usual fashion of recent years, the majority applies the Lemon test to judge the constitutionality of the holiday displays here in question. I am content for present purposes to remain within the Lemon framework, but do not wish to be seen as advocating, let alone adopting, that test as our primary guide in this difficult area. Persuasive criticism of Lemon has emerged. See Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 636-640 (1987) (SCALIA, J., dissenting); [656] Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402, 426-430 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 108-113 (1985) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); Roemer v. Maryland Bd. of Public Works, 426 U. S. 736, 768-769 (1976) (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). Our cases often question its utility in providing concrete answers to Establishment Clause questions, calling it but a " `helpful signpos[t]' " or " `guidelin[e]' " to assist our deliberations rather than a comprehensive test. Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 394 (1983) (quoting Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 741 (1973)); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 773, n. 31 (1973) (quoting Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672, 677-678 (1971)); see Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 679 (1984) ("[W]e have repeatedly emphasized our unwillingness to be confined to any single test or criterion in this sensitive area"). Substantial revision of our Establishment Clause doctrine may be in order; but it is unnecessary to undertake that task today, for even the Lemon test, when applied with proper sensitivity to our traditions and our case law, supports the conclusion that both the creche and the menorah are permissible displays in the context of the holiday season.

    171

    The only Lemon factor implicated in these cases directs us to inquire whether the "principal or primary effect" of the challenged government practice is "one that neither advances nor inhibits religion." 403 U. S., at 612. The requirement of neutrality inherent in that formulation has sometimes been stated in categorical terms. For example, in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1 (1947), the first case in our modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence, Justice Black wrote that the Clause forbids laws "which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another." Id., at 15-16. We have stated that government "must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice" and "may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the [657] militant opposite." Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 103-104 (1968). And we have spoken of a prohibition against conferring an " `imprimatur of state approval' " on religion, Mueller v. Allen, supra, at 399 (quoting Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 274 (1981)), or "favor[ing] the adherents of any sect or religious organization," Gillette v. United States, 401 U. S. 437, 450 (1971).

    172

    These statements must not give the impression of a formalism that does not exist. Taken to its logical extreme, some of the language quoted above would require a relentless extirpation of all contact between government and religion. But that is not the history or the purpose of the Establishment Clause. Government policies of accommodation, acknowledgment, and support for religion are an accepted part of our political and cultural heritage. As Chief Justice Burger wrote for the Court in Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S. 664 (1970), we must be careful to avoid "[t]he hazards of placing too much weight on a few words or phrases of the Court," and so we have "declined to construe the Religion Clauses with a literalness that would undermine the ultimate constitutional objective as illuminated by history." Id., at 670-671.

    173

    Rather than requiring government to avoid any action that acknowledges or aids religion, the Establishment Clause permits government some latitude in recognizing and accommodating the central role religion plays in our society. Lynch v. Donnelly, supra, at 678; Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 669. Any approach less sensitive to our heritage would border on latent hostility toward religion, as it would require government in all its multifaceted roles to acknowledge only the secular, to the exclusion and so to the detriment of the religious. A categorical approach would install federal courts as jealous guardians of an absolute "wall of separation," sending a clear message of disapproval. In this century, as the modern administrative state expands to touch the lives of its citizens in such diverse ways and redirects [658] their financial choices through programs of its own, it is difficult to maintain the fiction that requiring government to avoid all assistance to religion can in fairness be viewed as serving the goal of neutrality.

    174

    Our cases reflect this understanding. In Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952), for example, we permitted New York City's public school system to accommodate the religious preferences of its students by giving them the option of staying in school or leaving to attend religious classes for part of the day. Justice Douglas wrote for the Court:

    175
    "When the state encourages religious instruction . . . it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe." Id., at 313-314.
    176

    Nothing in the First Amendment compelled New York City to establish the release-time policy in Zorach, but the fact that the policy served to aid religion, and in particular those sects that offer religious education to the young, did not invalidate the accommodation. Likewise, we have upheld government programs supplying textbooks to students in parochial schools, Board of Education of Central School Dist. No. 1 v. Allen, 392 U. S. 236 (1968), providing grants to church-sponsored universities and colleges, Roemer v. Maryland Bd. of Public Works, supra; Tilton v. Richardson, supra, and exempting churches from the obligation to pay taxes, Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra. These programs all have the effect of providing substantial benefits to particular religions, see, e.g., Tilton, supra, at 679 (grants to church-sponsored educational institutions "surely aid" those institutions), but they are nonetheless permissible. See Lynch v. Donnelly, supra; McGowan v. [659] Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 445 (1961); Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign County, 333 U. S. 203, 211-212 (1948). As Justice Goldberg wrote in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963):

    177

    "It is said, and I agree, that the attitude of government toward religion must be one of neutrality. But untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious. Such results are not only not compelled by the Constitution, but, it seems to me, are prohibited by it. Neither government nor this Court can or should ignore the significance of the fact that a vast portion of our people believe in and worship God and that many of our legal, political and personal values derive historically from religious teachings. Government must inevitably take cognizance of the existence of religion . . . ." Id., at 306 (concurring opinion, joined by Harlan, J.).

    178

    The ability of the organized community to recognize and accommodate religion in a society with a pervasive public sector requires diligent observance of the border between accommodation and establishment. Our cases disclose two limiting principles: government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in any religion or its exercise; and it may not, in the guise of avoiding hostility or callous indifference, give direct benefits to religion in such a degree that it in fact "establishes a [state] religion or religious faith, or tends to do so." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 678. These two principles, while distinct, are not unrelated, for it would be difficult indeed to establish a religion without some measure of more or less subtle coercion, be it in the form of taxation to supply the substantial benefits that would sustain [660] a state-established faith, direct compulsion to observance, or governmental exhortation to religiosity that amounts in fact to proselytizing.

    179

    It is no surprise that without exception we have invalidated actions that further the interests of religion through the coercive power of government. Forbidden involvements include compelling or coercing participation or attendance at a religious activity, see Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962); McGowan v. Maryland, supra, at 452 (discussing McCollum v. Board of Education of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign County, supra), requiring religious oaths to obtain government office or benefits, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488 (1961), or delegating government power to religious groups, Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982). The freedom to worship as one pleases without government interference or oppression is the great object of both the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses. Barring all attempts to aid religion through government coercion goes far toward attainment of this object. See McGowan v. Maryland, supra, at 441, quoting 1 Annals of Congress 730 (1789) (James Madison, who proposed the First Amendment in Congress, " `apprehended the meaning of the [Religion Clauses] to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience' "); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 303 (1940) (the Religion Clauses "forestal[l] compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship").

    180

    As JUSTICE BLACKMUN observes, ante, at 597-598, n. 47, some of our recent cases reject the view that coercion is the sole touchstone of an Establishment Clause violation. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 430 (dictum) (rejecting, without citation of authority, proposition that coercion is required to demonstrate an Establishment Clause violation); Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 223; Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 786. That may be true if by "coercion" is meant [661] direct coercion in the classic sense of an establishment of religion that the Framers knew. But coercion need not be a direct tax in aid of religion or a test oath. Symbolic recognition or accommodation of religious faith may violate the Clause in an extreme case.[89] I doubt not, for example, that the Clause forbids a city to permit the permanent erection of a large Latin cross on the roof of city hall. This is not because government speech about religion is per se suspect, as the majority would have it, but because such an obtrusive year-round religious display would place the government's weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion. Cf. Friedman v. Board of County Comm'rs of Bernalillo County, 781 F. 2d 777 (CA10 1985) (en banc) (Latin cross on official county seal); American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Rabun County Chamber of Commerce, Inc., 698 F. 2d 1098 (CA11 1983) (cross erected in public park); Lowe v. Eugene, 254 Ore. 518, 463 P. 2d 360 (1969) (same). Speech may coerce in some circumstances, but this does not justify a ban on all government recognition of religion. As Chief Justice Burger wrote for the Court in Walz:

    181
    "The general principle deducible from the First Amendment and all that has been said by the Court is this: that we will not tolerate either governmentally established religion or governmental interference with religion. Short of those expressly proscribed governmental acts there is room for play in the joints productive of a benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist [662] without sponsorship and without interference." 397 U. S., at 669.
    182

    This is most evident where the government's act of recognition or accommodation is passive and symbolic, for in that instance any intangible benefit to religion is unlikely to present a realistic risk of establishment. Absent coercion, the risk of infringement of religious liberty by passive or symbolic accommodation is minimal. Our cases reflect this reality by requiring a showing that the symbolic recognition or accommodation advances religion to such a degree that it actually "establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so." Lynch, 465 U. S., at 678.

    183

    In determining whether there exists an establishment, or a tendency toward one, we refer to the other types of church-state contacts that have existed unchallenged throughout our history, or that have been found permissible in our case law. In Lynch, for example, we upheld the city of Pawtucket's holiday display of a creche, despite the fact that "the display advance[d] religion in a sense." Id., at 683. We held that the creche conferred no greater benefit on religion than did governmental support for religious education, legislative chaplains, "recognition of the origins of the [Christmas] Holiday itself as `Christ's Mass,' " or many other forms of symbolic or tangible governmental assistance to religious faiths that are ensconced in the safety of national tradition. Id., at 681, 683. And in Marsh v. Chambers, we found that Nebraska's practice of employing a legislative chaplain did not violate the Establishment Clause, because "legislative prayer presents no more potential for establishment than the provision of school transportation, beneficial grants for higher education, or tax exemptions for religious organizations." 463 U. S., at 791 (citations omitted). Noncoercive government action within the realm of flexible accommodation or passive acknowledgment of existing symbols does not violate the Establishment Clause unless it benefits religion in a way [663] more direct and more substantial than practices that are accepted in our national heritage.

    184
    II
    185

    These principles are not difficult to apply to the facts of the cases before us. In permitting the displays on government property of the menorah and the creche, the city and county sought to do no more than "celebrate the season," Brief for Petitioner County of Allegheny in No. 87-2050, p. 27, and to acknowledge, along with many of their citizens, the historical background and the religious, as well as secular, nature of the Chanukah and Christmas holidays. This interest falls well within the tradition of government accommodation and acknowledgment of religion that has marked our history from the beginning.[90] It cannot be disputed that government, if it chooses, may participate in sharing with its citizens the joy of the holiday season, by declaring public holidays, installing or permitting festive displays, sponsoring celebrations and parades, and providing holiday vacations for its employees. All levels of our government do precisely that. As we said in Lynch, "Government has long recognized — indeed it has subsidized — holidays with religious significance." 465 U. S., at 676.

    186

    If government is to participate in its citizens' celebration of a holiday that contains both a secular and a religious component, enforced recognition of only the secular aspect would [664] signify the callous indifference toward religious faith that our cases and traditions do not require; for by commemorating the holiday only as it is celebrated by nonadherents, the government would be refusing to acknowledge the plain fact, and the historical reality, that many of its citizens celebrate its religious aspects as well. Judicial invalidation of government's attempts to recognize the religious underpinnings of the holiday would signal not neutrality but a pervasive intent to insulate government from all things religious. The Religion Clauses do not require government to acknowledge these holidays or their religious component; but our strong tradition of government accommodation and acknowledgment permits government to do so. See Lynch v. Donnelly, supra; cf. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S., at 314; Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 306 (Goldberg, J., concurring).

    187

    There is no suggestion here that the government's power to coerce has been used to further the interests of Christianity or Judaism in any way. No one was compelled to observe or participate in any religious ceremony or activity. Neither the city nor the county contributed significant amounts of tax money to serve the cause of one religious faith. The creche and the menorah are purely passive symbols of religious holidays. Passersby who disagree with the message conveyed by these displays are free to ignore them, or even to turn their backs, just as they are free to do when they disagree with any other form of government speech.

    188

    There is no realistic risk that the creche and the menorah represent an effort to proselytize or are otherwise the first step down the road to an establishment of religion.[91] Lynch [665] is dispositive of this claim with respect to the creche, and I find no reason for reaching a different result with respect to the menorah. Both are the traditional symbols of religious holidays that over time have acquired a secular component. Ante, at 579, and n. 3, 585, and n. 29. Without ambiguity, Lynch instructs that "the focus of our inquiry must be on the [religious symbol] in the context of the [holiday] season," 465 U. S., at 679. In that context, religious displays that serve "to celebrate the Holiday and to depict the origins of that Holiday" give rise to no Establishment Clause concern. Id., at 681. If Congress and the state legislatures do not run afoul of the Establishment Clause when they begin each day with a state-sponsored prayer for divine guidance offered by a chaplain whose salary is paid at government expense, I cannot comprehend how a menorah or a creche, displayed in the limited context of the holiday season, can be invalid.[92]

    189

    Respondents say that the religious displays involved here are distinguishable from the creche in Lynch because they are located on government property and are not surrounded [666] by the candy canes, reindeer, and other holiday paraphernalia that were a part of the display in Lynch. Nothing in Chief Justice Burger's opinion for the Court in Lynch provides support for these purported distinctions. After describing the facts, the Lynch opinion makes no mention of either of these factors. It concentrates instead on the significance of the creche as part of the entire holiday season. Indeed, it is clear that the Court did not view the secular aspects of the display as somehow subduing the religious message conveyed by the creche, for the majority expressly rejected the dissenters' suggestion that it sought " `to explain away the clear religious import of the creche' " or had "equated the creche with a Santa's house or reindeer." Id., at 685, n. 12. Crucial to the Court's conclusion was not the number, prominence, or type of secular items contained in the holiday display but the simple fact that, when displayed by government during the Christmas season, a creche presents no realistic danger of moving government down the forbidden road toward an establishment of religion. Whether the creche be surrounded by poinsettias, talking wishing wells, or carolers, the conclusion remains the same, for the relevant context is not the items in the display itself but the season as a whole.

    190

    The fact that the creche and menorah are both located on government property, even at the very seat of government, is likewise inconsequential. In the first place, the Lynch Court did not rely on the fact that the setting for Pawtucket's display was a privately owned park, and it is difficult to suggest that anyone could have failed to receive a message of government sponsorship after observing Santa Claus ride the city fire engine to the park to join with the mayor of Pawtucket in inaugurating the holiday season by turning on the lights of the city-owned display. See Donnelly v. Lynch, 525 F. Supp. 1150, 1156 (RI 1981). Indeed, the District Court in Lynch found that "people might reasonably mistake [667] the Park for public property," and rejected as "frivolous" the suggestion that the display was not directly associated with the city. Id., at 1176, and n. 35.

    191

    Our cases do not suggest, moreover, that the use of public property necessarily converts otherwise permissible government conduct into an Establishment Clause violation. To the contrary, in some circumstances the First Amendment may require that government property be available for use by religious groups, see Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981); Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U. S. 67 (1953); Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U. S. 268 (1951), and even where not required, such use has long been permitted. The prayer approved in Marsh v. Chambers, for example, was conducted in the legislative chamber of the State of Nebraska, surely the single place most likely to be thought the center of state authority.

    192

    Nor can I comprehend why it should be that placement of a government-owned creche on private land is lawful while placement of a privately owned creche on public land is not.[93] If anything, I should have thought government ownership of a religious symbol presented the more difficult question under the Establishment Clause, but as Lynch resolved that question to sustain the government action, the sponsorship here ought to be all the easier to sustain. In short, nothing about the religious displays here distinguishes them in any meaningful way from the creche we permitted in Lynch.

    193

    If Lynch is still good law — and until today it was — the judgment below cannot stand. I accept and indeed approve both the holding and the reasoning of Chief Justice Burger's opinion in Lynch, and so I must dissent from the judgment that the creche display is unconstitutional. On the same reasoning, I agree that the menorah display is constitutional.

    194
    [668] III
    195

    The majority invalidates display of the creche, not because it disagrees with the interpretation of Lynch applied above, but because it chooses to discard the reasoning of the Lynch majority opinion in favor of JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S concurring opinion in that case. See ante, at 594-597. It has never been my understanding that a concurring opinion "suggest[ing] a clarification of our . . . doctrine," Lynch, 465 U. S., at 687 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring), could take precedence over an opinion joined in its entirety by five Members of the Court.[94] As a general rule, the principle of stare decisis directs us to adhere not only to the holdings of our prior cases, but also to their explications of the governing rules of law. Since the majority does not state its intent to overrule Lynch, I find its refusal to apply the reasoning of that decision quite confusing.

    196

    Even if Lynch did not control, I would not commit this Court to the test applied by the majority today. The notion that cases arising under the Establishment Clause should be decided by an inquiry into whether a " `reasonable observer' " may " `fairly understand' " government action to " `sen[d] a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community,' " is a recent, and in my view most unwelcome, addition to our tangled Establishment Clause jurisprudence. Ante, at 595, 620. Although a scattering of our cases have used "endorsement" as another word for "preference" or "imprimatur," the endorsement test applied by the majority had its genesis in JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S concurring opinion in Lynch. See also Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327, 346 (1987) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment); Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U. S. 703, 711 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring); Wallace [669] v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 67 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). The endorsement test has been criticized by some scholars in the field, see, e.g., Smith, Symbols, Perceptions, and Doctrinal Illusions: Establishment Neutrality and the "No Endorsement" Test, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 266 (1987); Tushnet, The Constitution of Religion, 18 Conn. Law Rev. 701, 711-712 (1986). Only one opinion for the Court has purported to apply it in full, see School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 389-392 (1985), but the majority's opinion in these cases suggests that this novel theory is fast becoming a permanent accretion to the law. See also Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1, 8-9 (1989) (opinion of BRENNAN, J.). For the reasons expressed below, I submit that the endorsement test is flawed in its fundamentals and unworkable in practice. The uncritical adoption of this standard is every bit as troubling as the bizarre result it produces in the cases before us.

    197
    A
    198

    I take it as settled law that, whatever standard the Court applies to Establishment Clause claims, it must at least suggest results consistent with our precedents and the historical practices that, by tradition, have informed our First Amendment jurisprudence. See supra, at 655-663; Lynch, supra, at 673-674; Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S., at 790-791; Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S., at 671. It is true that, for reasons quite unrelated to the First Amendment, displays commemorating religious holidays were not commonplace in 1791. See generally J. Barnett, The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture 2-11 (1954). But the relevance of history is not confined to the inquiry into whether the challenged practice itself is a part of our accepted traditions dating back to the Founding.

    199

    Our decision in Marsh v. Chambers illustrates this proposition. The dissent in that case sought to characterize the decision as "carving out an exception to the Establishment [670] Clause rather than reshaping Establishment Clause doctrine to accommodate legislative prayer," 463 U. S., at 796 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), but the majority rejected the suggestion that "historical patterns ca[n] justify contemporary violations of constitutional guarantees," id., at 790. Marsh stands for the proposition, not that specific practices common in 1791 are an exception to the otherwise broad sweep of the Establishment Clause, but rather that the meaning of the Clause is to be determined by reference to historical practices and understandings.[95] Whatever test we choose to apply must permit not only legitimate practices two centuries old but also any other practices with no greater potential for an establishment of religion. See Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 808 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting in part). The First Amendment is a rule, not a digest or compendium. A test for implementing the protections of the Establishment Clause that, if applied with consistency, would invalidate longstanding traditions cannot be a proper reading of the Clause.

    200

    If the endorsement test, applied without artificial exceptions for historical practice, reached results consistent with history, my objections to it would have less force. But, as I understand that test, the touchstone of an Establishment Clause violation is whether nonadherents would be made to feel like "outsiders" by government recognition or accommodation of religion. Few of our traditional practices recognizing the part religion plays in our society can withstand scrutiny under a faithful application of this formula.

    201

    [671] Some examples suffice to make plain my concerns. Since the Founding of our Republic, American Presidents have issued Thanksgiving Proclamations establishing a national day of celebration and prayer. The first such proclamation was issued by President Washington at the request of the First Congress, and "recommend[ed] and assign[ed]" a day "to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be," so that "we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to . . . promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue . . . ." 1 J. Richardson, A Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, p. 64 (1899). Most of President Washington's successors have followed suit,[96] and the forthrightly religious nature of these proclamations has not waned with the years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt went so far as to "suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas" so that "we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God." Presidential Proclamation No. 2629, 58 Stat. 1160. It requires little imagination to conclude that these proclamations would cause nonadherents to feel excluded, yet they have been a part of our national heritage from the beginning.[97]

    202

    [672] The Executive has not been the only Branch of our Government to recognize the central role of religion in our society. The fact that this Court opens its sessions with the request that "God save the United States and this honorable Court" has been noted elsewhere. See Lynch, 465 U. S., at 677. The Legislature has gone much further, not only employing legislative chaplains, see 2 U. S. C. § 61d, but also setting aside a special prayer room in the Capitol for use by Members of the House and Senate. The room is decorated with a large stained glass panel that depicts President Washington kneeling in prayer; around him is etched the first verse of the 16th Psalm: "Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust." Beneath the panel is a rostrum on which a Bible is placed; next to the rostrum is an American Flag. See L. Aikman, We the People: The Story of the United States Capitol 122 (1978). Some endorsement is inherent in these reasonable accommodations, yet the Establishment Clause does not forbid them.

    203

    The United States Code itself contains religious references that would be suspect under the endorsement test. Congress has directed the President to "set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year . . . as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals." 36 U. S. C. § 169h. This statute does not require anyone to pray, of course, but it is a straightforward endorsement of the concept of "turn[ing] to God in prayer." Also by statute, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag describes the United States as "one Nation under God." 36 U. S. C. § 172. [673] To be sure, no one is obligated to recite this phrase, see West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624 (1943), but it borders on sophistry to suggest that the " `reasonable' " atheist would not feel less than a " `full membe[r] of the political community' " every time his fellow Americans recited, as part of their expression of patriotism and love for country, a phrase he believed to be false. Likewise, our national motto, "In God we trust," 36 U. S. C. § 186, which is prominently engraved in the wall above the Speaker's dias in the Chamber of the House of Representatives and is reproduced on every coin minted and every dollar printed by the Federal Government, 31 U. S. C. §§ 5112(d)(1), 5114(b), must have the same effect.

    204

    If the intent of the Establishment Clause is to protect individuals from mere feelings of exclusion, then legislative prayer cannot escape invalidation. It has been argued that "[these] government acknowledgments of religion serve, in the only ways reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society." Lynch, supra, at 693 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). I fail to see why prayer is the only way to convey these messages; appeals to patriotism, moments of silence, and any number of other approaches would be as effective, were the only purposes at issue the ones described by the Lynch concurrence. Nor is it clear to me why "encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society" can be characterized as a purely secular purpose, if it can be achieved only through religious prayer. No doubt prayer is "worthy of appreciation," but that is most assuredly not because it is secular. Even accepting the secular-solemnization explanation at face value, moreover, it seems incredible to suggest that the average observer of legislative prayer who either believes in no religion or whose faith rejects the concept of God would not receive the clear message that his faith is out of step with the [674] political norm. Either the endorsement test must invalidate scores of traditional practices recognizing the place religion holds in our culture, or it must be twisted and stretched to avoid inconsistency with practices we know to have been permitted in the past, while condemning similar practices with no greater endorsement effect simply by reason of their lack of historical antecedent.[98] Neither result is acceptable.

    205
    B
    206

    In addition to disregarding precedent and historical fact, the majority's approach to government use of religious symbolism threatens to trivialize constitutional adjudication. By mischaracterizing the Court's opinion in Lynch as an endorsement-in-context test, ante, at 597, JUSTICE BLACKMUN embraces a jurisprudence of minutiae. A reviewing court must consider whether the city has included Santas, talking wishing wells, reindeer, or other secular symbols as "a center of attention separate from the creche." Ante, at 598. After determining whether these centers of attention are sufficiently "separate" that each "had their specific visual story to tell," the court must then measure their proximity to the creche. Ante, at 598, and n. 48. A community that wishes to construct a constitutional display must also [675] take care to avoid floral frames or other devices that might insulate the creche from the sanitizing effect of the secular portions of the display. Ibid. The majority also notes the presence of evergreens near the creche that are identical to two small evergreens placed near official county signs. Ante, at 600, n. 50. After today's decision, municipal greenery must be used with care.

    207

    Another important factor will be the prominence of the setting in which the display is placed. In this case, the Grand Staircase of the county courthouse proved too resplendent. Indeed, the Court finds that this location itself conveyed an "unmistakable message that [the county] supports and promotes the Christian praise to God that is the creche's religious message." Ante, at 600.

    208

    My description of the majority's test, though perhaps uncharitable, is intended to illustrate the inevitable difficulties with its application.[99] This test could provide workable guidance to the lower courts, if ever, only after this Court has decided a long series of holiday display cases, using little more than intuition and a tape measure. Deciding cases on [676] the basis of such an unguided examination of marginalia is irreconcilable with the imperative of applying neutral principles in constitutional adjudication. "It would be appalling to conduct litigation under the Establishment Clause as if it were a trademark case, with experts testifying about whether one display is really like another, and witnesses testifying they were offended — but would have been less so were the creche five feet closer to the jumbo candy cane." American Jewish Congress v. Chicago, 827 F. 2d 120, 130 (CA7 1987) (Easterbrook, J., dissenting).

    209

    JUSTICE BLACKMUN employs in many respects a similar analysis with respect to the menorah, principally discussing its proximity to the Christmas tree and whether "it is . . . more sensible to interpret the menorah in light of the tree, rather than vice versa." Ante, at 617; see also ante, at 635 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (concluding that combination of tree, menorah, and salute to liberty conveys no message of endorsement to reasonable observers). JUSTICE BLACKMUN goes further, however, and in upholding the menorah as an acknowledgment of a holiday with secular aspects emphasizes the city's lack of "reasonable alternatives that are less religious in nature." Ante, at 618; see ibid. (noting absence of a "more secular alternative symbol"). This least-religious-means test presents several difficulties.[100] First, it creates an internal inconsistency in JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S opinion. JUSTICE BLACKMUN earlier suggests that the display of a creche is sometimes constitutional. Ante, at 598. But it is obvious that there are innumerable secular symbols of Christmas, and that there will always be a more secular alternative available in place of a creche. Second, the test as applied by JUSTICE BLACKMUN is unworkable, for it requires not only that the Court engage in the unfamiliar task of deciding whether a particular alternative [677] symbol is more or less religious, but also whether the alternative would "look out of place." Ante, at 618. Third, although JUSTICE BLACKMUN purports not to be overruling Lynch, the more-secular-alternative test contradicts that decision, as it comes not from the Court's opinion, nor even from the concurrence, but from the dissent. See 465 U. S., at 699 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). The Court in Lynch noted that the dissent "argues that the city's objectives could have been achieved without including the creche in the display." Id., at 681, n. 7. "True or false," we said, "that is irrelevant."

    210

    The result the Court reaches in these cases is perhaps the clearest illustration of the unwisdom of the endorsement test. Although JUSTICE O'CONNOR disavows JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S suggestion that the minority or majority status of a religion is relevant to the question whether government recognition constitutes a forbidden endorsement, ante, at 634 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment), the very nature of the endorsement test, with its emphasis on the feelings of the objective observer, easily lends itself to this type of inquiry. If there be such a person as the "reasonable observer," I am quite certain that he or she will take away a salient message from our holding in these cases: the Supreme Court of the United States has concluded that the First Amendment creates classes of religions based on the relative numbers of their adherents. Those religions enjoying the largest following must be consigned to the status of least favored faiths so as to avoid any possible risk of offending members of minority religions. I would be the first to admit that many questions arising under the Establishment Clause do not admit of easy answers, but whatever the Clause requires, it is not the result reached by the Court today.

    211
    IV
    212

    The approach adopted by the majority contradicts important values embodied in the Clause. Obsessive, implacable resistance to all but the most carefully scripted and secularized [678] forms of accommodation requires this Court to act as a censor, issuing national decrees as to what is orthodox and what is not. What is orthodox, in this context, means what is secular; the only Christmas the State can acknowledge is one in which references to religion have been held to a minimum. The Court thus lends its assistance to an Orwellian rewriting of history as many understand it. I can conceive of no judicial function more antithetical to the First Amendment.

    213

    A further contradiction arises from the majority's approach, for the Court also assumes the difficult and inappropriate task of saying what every religious symbol means. Before studying these cases, I had not known the full history of the menorah, and I suspect the same was true of my colleagues. More important, this history was, and is, likely unknown to the vast majority of people of all faiths who saw the symbol displayed in Pittsburgh. Even if the majority is quite right about the history of the menorah, it hardly follows that this same history informed the observers' view of the symbol and the reason for its presence. This Court is ill equipped to sit as a national theology board, and I question both the wisdom and the constitutionality of its doing so. Indeed, were I required to choose between the approach taken by the majority and a strict separationist view, I would have to respect the consistency of the latter.

    214

    The suit before us is admittedly a troubling one. It must be conceded that, however neutral the purpose of the city and county, the eager proselytizer may seek to use these symbols for his own ends. The urge to use them to teach or to taunt is always present. It is also true that some devout adherents of Judaism or Christianity may be as offended by the holiday display as are nonbelievers, if not more so. To place these religious symbols in a common hallway or sidewalk, where they may be ignored or even insulted, must be distasteful to many who cherish their meaning.

    215

    [679] For these reasons, I might have voted against installation of these particular displays were I a local legislative official. But we have no jurisdiction over matters of taste within the realm of constitutionally permissible discretion. Our role is enforcement of a written Constitution. In my view, the principles of the Establishment Clause and our Nation's historic traditions of diversity and pluralism allow communities to make reasonable judgments respecting the accommodation or acknowledgment of holidays with both cultural and religious aspects. No constitutional violation occurs when they do so by displaying a symbol of the holiday's religious origins.

    216

    ----------

    217

    [1] Together with No. 88-90, Chabad v. American Civil Liberties Union et al., and No. 88-96, City of Pittsburgh v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

    218

    [2] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Fried, Deputy Solicitor General Ayer, and Michael K. Kellogg; for the city of Warren, Michigan, by Robert E. Williams; for Concerned Women for America by Jordan W. Lorence, Cimron Campbell, and Wendell R. Bird; for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs by Dennis Rapps and A. David Stern; and for the National Legal Foundation by Douglas W. Davis, Robert K. Skolrood, and William C. Wood, Jr.

    219

    Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Jewish Committee et al. by Samuel Rabinove, Richard T. Foltin, James G. Greilsheimer, Alan M. Klinger, David A. Stein, Lauren G. Klein, and Lee Boothby; and for the American Jewish Congress et al. by Arlene Fickler, Marc D. Stern, Lois C. Waldman, and Amy Adelson.

    220

    [3] See 8 Encyclopedia of Religion, "Jesus," 15, 18 (1987).

    221

    [4] See 3 Encyclopedia of Religion, "Christmas," 460 (1987). Some eastern churches, however, have not adopted December 25 as the Feast of the Nativity, retaining January 6 as the date for celebrating both the birth and the baptism of Jesus. R. Myers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays 15, 17 (1972) (Myers).

    222

    [5] "[T]he Christmas holiday in our national culture contains both secular and sectarian elements." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 709, and n. 15 (1984) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). It has been suggested that the cultural aspect of Christmas in this country now exceeds the theological significance of the holiday. See J. Barnett, The American Christmas, a Study in National Culture 23 (1954) (Barnett) ("[B]y the latter part of the last century, the folk-secular aspects of Christmas were taking precedence over its religious ones").

    223

    [6] Luke 2:1-21; Matthew 2:1-11.

    224

    [7] This phrase comes from Luke, who tells of an angel appearing to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Messiah. After the angel told the shepherds that they would find the baby lying in a manger, "suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men." Luke 2:13-14 (King James Version). It is unlikely that an observer standing at the bottom of the Grand Staircase would be able to read the text of the angel's banner from that distance, but might be able to do so from a closer vantage point.

    225

    [8] On each side of the staircase was a sign indicating the direction of county offices. JEV 7-8. A small evergreen tree, decorated much like the trees behind the endposts, was placed next to each directional sign. Ibid.

    226

    [9] In the arched windows behind the staircase were two large wreaths, each with a large red ribbon. Ibid.

    227

    [10] See generally A. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days 49-78 (1978) (Bloch, Holy Days); A. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies 267-278 (1980) (Bloch, Ceremonies); 6 Encyclopedia of Religion, "Hanukkah," 193-194; 7 Encyclopaedia Judaica, "Hanukkah," 1280-1288 (1972); O. Rankin, The Origins of the Festival of Hanukkah (1930) (Rankin); A. Chill, The Minhagim 241-254 (1979) (Chill); L. Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance 137-151 (1980) (Trepp); M. Strassfeld, The Jewish Holidays 161-177 (1985) (Strassfeld).

    228

    [11] See Columbia Encyclopedia 1190 (4th ed. 1975); J. Williams, What Americans Believe and How they Worship 348 (3d ed. 1969); Myers 302; see also Strassfeld 202; see generally A. Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar (1981).

    229

    [12] See P. Johnson, A History of the Jews 104 (1987) (Johnson); R. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History 158 (1980) (Seltzer).

    230

    [13] The word Chanukah, sometimes spelled Chanukkah or Hanukkah, is drawn from the Hebrew for "dedication." 7 Encyclopaedia Judaica 1280.

    231

    [14] See Strassfeld 161-163; Rankin 133.

    232

    [15] The Talmud (specifically the Babylonian Talmud) is a collection of rabbinic commentary on Jewish law that was compiled before the sixth century, App. 140. See 14 Encyclopedia of Religion, "Talmud," 256-259; see also Seltzer 265.

    233

    [16] "Menorah" is Hebrew for "candelabrum." See 11 Encyclopaedia Judaica, "Menorah," at 1356.

    234

    [17] See The Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo'ed, 1 Shabbath 21b (Soncino Press 1938); Strassfeld 163; Trepp 143.

    235

    [18] Cf. "Mitzvah," in 12 Encyclopaedia Judaica 162 (4th ed., 1972) ("In common usage, mitzvah has taken on the meaning of a good deed. Already in the Talmud, this word was used for a meritorious act as distinct from a positive commandment"). The plural of mitzvah is mitzvot.

    236

    [19] See also Bloch, Ceremonies 269. According to some Jewish authorities the miracle of Chanukah is the success of the Maccabees over the Seleucids, rather than the fact that the oil lasted eight days. App. 141. Either way, the purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles, as a religious mitzvah, is to celebrate a miracle. Ibid.

    237

    [20] Trepp 146; 7 Encyclopaedia Judaica 1283; Talmud Shabbath 21b.

    238

    [21] Bloch, Ceremonies 274.

    239

    [22] Another translation is "Praised are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified our lives through His commandments, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights." Strassfeld 167.

    240

    [23] Trepp 145; see generally 7 Encyclopaedia Judaica, "Hanukkah Lamp," 1288-1316.

    241

    [24] The design of the menorah is set forth in Exodus 25:31-40; see also 11 Encyclopaedia Judaica 1356-1370.

    242

    [25] Bloch, Ceremonies 274-275.

    243

    [26] A Torah scroll — which contains the five Books of Moses — must be buried in a special manner when it is no longer usable. App. 237-238.

    244

    [27] Strassfeld 167; Bloch, Ceremonies 277.

    245

    [28] Id., at 277-278; Trepp 147. It is also a custom to serve potato pancakes or other fried foods on Chanukah because the oil in which they are fried is, by tradition, a reminder of the miracle of Chanukah. App. 242-243; Strassfeld 168.

    246

    [29] Id., at 164.

    247

    [30] Trepp 144, 150; 6 Encyclopedia of Religion 193; see also Strassfeld 176. Of course, the celebration of Christmas and Chanukah in the Southern Hemisphere occurs during summer. Nonetheless, both Christmas and Chanukah first developed in the Northern Hemisphere and have longstanding cultural associations with the beginning of winter. In fact, ancient rabbis chose Chanukah as the means to mark the beginning of winter. See Bloch, Holy Days 77.

    248

    [31] See also App. 229, 237. The Court of Appeals in this litigation plainly erred when it asserted that Chanukah "is not . . . a holiday with secular aspects." 842 F. 2d 655, 662 (CA3 1988). This assertion contradicts uncontroverted record evidence presented by respondents' own expert witness:

    249

    "There are also those Jews within the Jewish community who are nontheistic.. . . [T]hey base their celebration [of Chanukah] on something other than religion." App. 143.

    250

    In response to further questioning, the expert added that the celebration of Chanukah as a cultural event "certainly exists." Ibid. Thus, on this record, Chanukah unquestionably has "secular aspects," although it is also a religious holiday. See Chill 241 (Chanukah is celebrated by secular as well as religious Jews).

    251

    [32] Strassfeld 164-165; see also 7 Encyclopaedia Judaica 1288.

    252

    [33] "In America, Hanukkah has been influenced by the celebration of Christmas. While a tradition of giving Hanukkah gelt — money — is an old one, the proximity to Christmas has made gift giving an intrinsic part of the holiday." Strassfeld 164.

    253

    [34] "In general, the attempt to create a Jewish equivalent to Christmas has given Hanukkah more significance in the festival cycle than it has had in the past." Ibid."Hanukkah has prospered because it comes about the same time as Christmas and can be used as the Jewish equivalent." D. Elazar, Community and Polity: The Organizational Dynamics of American Jewry 119 (1976). "Hanukkah was elaborated by American Jews to protect the child and to defend Judaism against the glamour and seductive power of Christmas." C. Liebman, The Ambivalent American Jew 66 (1973). See also M. Sklare & J. Greenblum, Jewish Identity on the Suburban Frontier 58 (1967):

    254

    "The aspects of Hanukkah observance currently emphasized — the exchange of gifts and the lighting and display of the menorah in the windows of homes — offer ready parallels to the general mode of Christmas observance as well as provide a `Jewish' alternative to the holiday. Instead of alienating the Jew from the general culture, Hanukkah helps situate him as a participant in that culture. Hanukkah, in short, becomes for some the Jewish Christmas."

    255

    [35] See Chill 241 (from the perspective of Jewish religious law, Chanukah is "only a minor festival").

    256

    [36] Additionally, menorahs — like Chanukah itself — have a secular as well as a religious dimension. The record in this litigation contains a passing reference to the fact that menorahs "are used extensively by secular Jewish organizations to represent the Jewish people." App. 310.

    257

    [37] Chabad, also known as Lubavitch, is an organization of Hasidic Jews who follow the teachings of a particular Jewish leader, the Lubavitch Rebbe. Id., at 228, 253-254. The Lubavitch movement is a branch of Hasidism, which itself is a branch of orthodox Judaism. Id., at 249-250. Pittsburgh has a total population of 45,000 Jews; of these, 100 to 150 families attend synagogue at Pittsburgh's Lubavitch Center. Id., at 247-251.

    258

    [38] Respondents also sought a preliminary injunction against the display of the creche and menorah for the 1986-1987 holiday season. Characterizing the creche and menorah as "de minimis in the context of the First Amendment," the District Court on December 15 denied respondents' motion for preliminary injunctive relief. Id., at 10.

    259

    [39] Respondents, however, do not claim that the city's Christmas tree violates the Establishment Clause and do not seek to enjoin its display. Respondents also do not claim that the county's Christmas-carol program is unconstitutional. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 32.

    260

    [40] In addition to agreeing with the city that the menorah's display does not violate the Establishment Clause, Chabad contends that it has a constitutional right to display the menorah in front of the City-County Building. In light of the Court's disposition of the Establishment Clause question as to the menorah, there is no need to address Chabad's contention.

    261

    [41] See also M. Borden, Jews, Turks, and Infidels (1984) (charting the history of discrimination against non-Christian citizens of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries); Laycock, "Nonpreferential" Aid to Religion: A False Claim About Original Intent, 27 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 875, 919-920 (1986) (Laycock) (the intolerance of late 18th-century Americans towards Catholics, Jews, Moslems, and atheists cannot be the basis of interpreting the Establishment Clause today).

    262

    [42] A State may neither allow public-school students to receive religious instruction on public-school premises, Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign County, 333 U. S. 203 (1948), nor allow religious-school students to receive state-sponsored education in their religious schools. School District of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373 (1985). Similarly unconstitutional is state-sponsored prayer in public schools. Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962). And the content of a public school's curriculum may not be based on a desire to promote religious beliefs. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578 (1987); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968). For the same reason, posting the Ten Commandments on the wall of a public-school classroom violates the Establishment Clause. Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980).

    263

    [43] A statute that conditions the holding of public office on a belief in the existence of God is unconstitutional, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488 (1961), as is one that grants a tax exemption for only religious literature, Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1 (1989), and one that grants an employee a right not to work on his Sabbath, Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U. S. 703, 709-710, and n. 9 (1985) (reasoning that other employees might also have strong reasons for taking a particular day off from work each week). See also Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228 (1982) (invalidating a statute that imposed registration and reporting requirements upon only those religious organizations that solicit more than 50% of their funds from nonmembers).

    264

    [44] Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982).

    265

    [45] See Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402, 409 (1985); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229, 254 (1977); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349, 370 (1975); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 619-622 (1971).

    266

    [46] See, e.g., Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 602 (1988); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S., at 583; Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, 474 U. S. 481, 485 (1986); Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S., at 410; School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S., at 382-383; Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U. S., at 708; Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 55-56 (1985); Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S., at 123; Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S., at 40; Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 653 (1980); Meek v. Pittenger, supra; Sloan v. Lemon, 413 U. S. 825 (1973); Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 772-773 (1973); Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 741 (1973); Levitt v. Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty, 413 U. S. 472, 481-482 (1973).

    267

    [47] There is no need here to review the applications in Lynch of the "purpose" and "entanglement" elements of the Lemon inquiry, since in the present action the Court of Appeals did not consider these issues.

    268

    [48] The difference in approach between the Lynch majority and the concurrence is especially evident in each opinion's treatment of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983). In that case, the Court sustained the practice of legislative prayer based on its unique history: Congress authorized the payment of legislative chaplains during the same week that it reached final agreement on the language of the Bill of Rights. Id., at 788. The Lynch majority employed Marsh comparatively: to forbid the use of the creche, "while the Congress and legislatures open sessions with prayers by paid chaplains, would be a stilted overreaction contrary to our history and to our holdings." Lynch,465 U. S., at 686.

    269

    The concurrence, in contrast, harmonized the result in Marsh with the endorsement principle in a rigorous way, explaining that legislative prayer (like the invocation that commences each session of this Court) is a form of acknowledgment of religion that "serve[s], in the only wa[y] reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society." 465 U. S., at 693. The function and history of this form of ceremonial deism suggest that "those practices are not understood as conveying government approval of particular religious beliefs." Ibid.; see also id., at 717 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).

    270

    [49] The county and the city argue that their use of religious symbols does not violate the Establishment Clause unless they are shown to be "coercive." Reply Brief for Petitioners County of Allegheny et al. 1-6; Tr. of Oral Arg. 9, 11. They recognize that this Court repeatedly has stated that "proof of coercion" is "not a necessary element of any claim under the Establishment Clause." Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 786; see also Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 222-223; Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S., at 430. But they suggest that the Court reconsider this principle. Reply Brief for Petitioners Allegheny County et al. 3; cf. American Jewish Congress v. Chicago, 827 F. 2d 120, 137 (CA7 1987) (dissenting opinion); McConnell, Coercion: The Lost Element of Establishment, 27 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 933 (1986). The Court declines to do so, and proceeds to apply the controlling endorsement inquiry, which does not require an independent showing of coercion.

    271

    [50] The presence of Santas or other Christmas decorations elsewhere in the county courthouse, and of the nearby gallery forum, fail to negate the endorsement effect of the creche. The record demonstrates clearly that the creche, with its floral frame, was its own display distinct from any other decorations or exhibitions in the building. Tr. of Oral Arg. 7.

    272

    [51] See App. 169 (religious as well as nonreligious carols were sung at the program).

    273

    [52] The Grand Staircase does not appear to be the kind of location in which all were free to place their displays for weeks at a time, so that the presence of the creche in that location for over six weeks would then not serve to associate the government with the creche. Even if the Grand Staircase occasionally was used for displays other than the creche (for example, a display of flags commemorating the 25th anniversary of Israel's independence, id., at 176), it remains true that any display located there fairly may be understood to express views that receive the support and endorsement of the government. In any event, the county's own press releases made clear to the public that the county associated itself with the creche. JEV 28 (flier identifying the choral program as county sponsored); id., at 30; App. 174 (linking the creche to the choral program). Moreover, the county created a visual link between itself and the creche: it placed next to official county signs two small evergreens identical to those in the creche display. In this respect, the creche here does not raise the kind of "public forum" issue, cf. Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263 (1981), presented by the creche in McCreary v. Stone, 739 F. 2d 716 (CA2 1984), aff'd by an equally divided Court sub nom. Board of Trustees of Scarsdale v. McCreary, 471 U. S. 83 (1985) (private creche in public park).

    274

    [53] Nor can the display of the creche be justified as an "accommodation" of religion. See Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327 (1987). Government efforts to accommodate religion are permissible when they remove burdens on the free exercise of religion. Id., at 348 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). The display of a creche in a courthouse does not remove any burden on the free exercise of Christianity. Christians remain free to display creches in their homes and churches. To be sure, prohibiting the display of a creche in the courthouse deprives Christians of the satisfaction of seeing the government adopt their religious message as their own, but this kind of government affiliation with particular religious messages is precisely what the Establishment Clause precludes.

    275

    [54] It is worth noting that just because Marsh sustained the validity of legislative prayer, it does not necessarily follow that practices like proclaiming a National Day of Prayer are constitutional. See post, at 672-673. Legislative prayer does not urge citizens to engage in religious practices, and on that basis could well be distinguishable from an exhortation from government to the people that they engage in religious conduct. But, as this practice is not before us, we express no judgment about its constitutionality.

    276

    [55] Among the stories this scholar recounts is one that is especially apt in light of JUSTICE KENNEDY'S citation of Thanksgiving Proclamations, post,at 671:

    277

    "When James H. Hammond, governor of South Carolina, announced a day of `Thanksgiving, Humiliation, and Prayer' in 1844, he . . . exhorted `our citizens of all denominations to assemble at their respective places of worship, to offer up their devotions to God their Creator, and his Son Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world.' The Jews of Charleston protested, charging Hammond with `such obvious discrimination and preference in the tenor of your proclamation, as amounted to an utter exclusion of a portion of the people of South Carolina.' Hammond responded that `I have always thought it a settled matter that I lived in a Christian land! And that I was the temporary chief magistrate of a Christian people. That in such a country and among such a people I should be, publicly, called to an account, reprimanded and required to make amends for acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world, I would not have believed possible, if it had not come to pass' (The Occident, January 1845)." Borden 142, n. 2 (emphasis in Borden).

    278

    Thus, not all Thanksgiving Proclamations fit the nonsectarian or deist mold as did those examples quoted by JUSTICE KENNEDY. Moreover, the Jews of Charleston succinctly captured the precise evil caused by such sectarian proclamations as Governor Hammond's: they demonstrate an official preference for Christianity and a corresponding official discrimination against all non-Christians, amounting to an exclusion of a portion of the political community. It is against this very evil that the Establishment Clause, in part, is directed. Indeed, the Jews of Charleston could not better have formulated the essential concepts of the endorsement inquiry.

    279

    [56] In 1776, for instance, Maryland adopted a "Declaration of Rights" that allowed its legislature to impose a tax "for the support of the Christian religion" and a requirement that all state officials declare "a belief in the Christian religion." 1 A. Stokes, Church and State in the United States 865-866 (1950). Efforts made in 1797 to remove these discriminations against non-Christians were unsuccessful. Id., at 867. See also id., at 513 (quoting the explicitly Christian proclamation of President John Adams, who urged all Americans to seek God's grace "through the Redeemer of the world" and "by His Holy Spirit").

    280

    [57] JUSTICE KENNEDY evidently believes that contemporary references to exclusively Christian creeds (like the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus) in official acts or proclamations is justified by the religious sentiments of those responsible for the adoption of the First Amendment. See 2 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1874, p. 663 (1858) (at the time of the First Amendment's adoption, "the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state"). This Court, however, squarely has rejected the proposition that the Establishment Clause is to be interpreted in light of any favoritism for Christianity that may have existed among the Founders of the Republic. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 52.

    281

    [58] In describing what would violate his "proselytization" test, JUSTICE KENNEDY uses the adjectives "permanent," "year-round," and "continual," post, at 661, 664-665, n. 3, as if to suggest that temporary acts of favoritism for a particular sect do not violate the Establishment Clause. Presumably, however, JUSTICE KENNEDY does not really intend these adjectives to define the limits of his principle since it is obvious that the government's efforts to proselytize may be of short duration, as Governor Hammond's Thanksgiving Proclamation illustrates. See n. 53, supra. In any event, the Court repudiated any notion that preferences for particular religious beliefs are permissible unless permanent when, in Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S., at 620, it ordered an inquiry into the "specific instances of impermissible behavior" that may have occurred in the administration of a statutory program.

    282

    [59] It is not clear, moreover, why JUSTICE KENNEDY thinks the display of the creche in this lawsuit is permissible even under his lax "proselytization" test. Although early on in his opinion he finds "no realistic risk that the creche . . . represent[s] an effort to proselytize," post, at 664, at the end he concludes: "[T]he eager proselytizer may seek to use [public creche displays] for his own ends. The urge to use them to teach or to taunt is always present." Post,at 678 (emphasis added). Whatever the cause of this inconsistency, it should be obvious to all that the creche on the Grand Staircase communicates the message that Jesus is the Messiah and to be worshipped as such, an inherently prosyletizing message if ever there was one. In fact, the angel in the creche display represents, according to Christian tradition, one of the original "proselytizers" of the Christian faith: the angel who appeared to the shepherds to tell them of the birth of Christ. Thus, it would seem that JUSTICE KENNEDY should find this display unconstitutional according to a consistent application of his principle that government may not place its weight behind obvious efforts to proselytize Christian creeds specifically.

    283

    Contrary to JUSTICE KENNEDY'S assertion, the Court's decision in Lynch does not foreclose this conclusion. Lynch certainly is not "dispositive of [a] claim," post, at 665, regarding the government's display of a creche bearing an explicitly proselytizing sign (like "Let's all rejoice in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world," cf. n. 53, supra). As much as JUSTICE KENNEDY tries, see post, at 665-666, there is no hiding behind the fiction that Lynch decides the constitutionality of every possible government creche display. Once stripped of this fiction, JUSTICE KENNEDY'S opinion transparently lacks a principled basis, consistent with our precedents, for asserting that the creche display here must be held constitutional.

    284

    [60] Thus, JUSTICE KENNEDY is incorrect when he says, post, at 674, n. 10, that the Court fails to explain why today's decision does not require the elimination of all religious Christmas music from public property.

    285

    [61] In his attempt to legitimate the display of the creche on the Grand Staircase, JUSTICE KENNEDY repeatedly characterizes it as an "accommodation" of religion. See, e.g., post, at 663, 664. But an accommodation of religion, in order to be permitted under the Establishment Clause, must lift "an identifiable burden on the exercise of religion." Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S., at 348 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment) (emphasis in original); see also McConnell, Accommodation of Religion, 1985 S. Ct. Rev. 1, 3-4 (defining "accommodation" as government action as "specifically for the purpose of facilitating the free exercise of religion," usually by exempting religious practices from general regulations). Defined thus, the concept of accommodation plainly has no relevance to the display of the creche in this lawsuit. See n. 51, supra.

    286

    One may agree with JUSTICE KENNEDY that the scope of accommodations permissible under the Establishment Clause is larger than the scope of accommodations mandated by the Free Exercise Clause. See post, at 663, n. 2. An example prompted by the Court's decision in Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U. S. 503 (1986), comes readily to mind: although the Free Exercise Clause does not require the Air Force to exempt yarmulkes from a no-headdress rule, it is at least plausible that the Establishment Clause permits the Air Force to promulgate a regulation exempting yarmulkes (and similar religiously motivated headcoverings) from its no-headdress rule. But a category of "permissible accommodations of religion not required by the Free Exercise Clause" aids the creche on the Grand Staircase not at all. Prohibiting the display of a creche at this location, it bears repeating, does not impose a burden on the practice of Christianity (except to the extent that some Christian sect seeks to be an officially approved religion), and therefore permitting the display is not an "accommodation" of religion in the conventional sense.

    287

    [62] JUSTICE KENNEDY is clever but mistaken in asserting that the description of the menorah, supra, at 582-587, purports to turn the Court into a "national theology board." Post,at 678. Any inquiry concerning the government's use of a religious object to determine whether that use results in an unconstitutional religious preference requires a review of the factual record concerning the religious object — even if the inquiry is conducted pursuant to JUSTICE KENNEDY'S "proselytization" test. Surely, JUSTICE KENNEDY cannot mean that this Court must keep itself in ignorance of the symbol's conventional use and decide the constitutional question knowing only what it knew before the case was filed. This prescription of ignorance obviously would bias this Court according to the religious and cultural backgrounds of its Members, a condition much more intolerable than any which results from the Court's efforts to become familiar with the relevant facts.

    288

    Moreover, the relevant facts concerning Chanukah and the menorah are largely to be found in the record, as indicated by the extensive citation to the Appendix, supra, at 582-585. In any event, Members of this Court have not hesitated in referring to secondary sources in aid of their Establishment Clause analysis, see, e.g., Lynch, 465 U. S., at 709-712, 721-724 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), because the question "whether a government activity communicates an endorsement of religion" is "in large part a legal question to be answered on the basis of judicial interpretation of social facts," id., at 693-694 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

    289

    [63] The display of a menorah next to a creche on government property might prove to be invalid. Cf. Greater Houston Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union v. Eckels, 589 F. Supp. 222 (SD Tex. 1984), appeal dism'd, 755 F. 2d 426 (CA5), cert. denied, 474 U. S. 980 (1985) (war memorial containing crosses and a Star of David unconstitutionally favored Christianity and Judaism, discriminating against the beliefs of patriotic soldiers who were neither Christian nor Jewish).

    290

    [64] It is worth recalling here that no Member of the Court in Lynch suggested that government may not celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas. On the contrary, the four dissenters there stated: "If public officials. . . participate in the secular celebration of Christmas — by, for example, decorating public places with such secular images as wreaths, garlands, or Santa Claus figures — they move closer to the limits of their constitutional power but nevertheless remain within the boundaries set by the Establishment Clause." 465 U. S., at 710-711 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting) (emphasis in original).

    291

    [65] Thus, to take the most obvious of examples, if it were permissible for the city to display in front of the City-County Building a banner exclaiming "Merry Christmas," then it would also be permissible for the city to display in the same location a banner proclaiming "Happy Chanukah."

    292

    JUSTICE BRENNAN, however, seems to suggest that even this practice is problematic because holidays associated with other religious traditions would be excluded. See post, at 644. But when the government engages in the secular celebration of Christmas, without any reference to holidays celebrated by non-Christians, other traditions are excluded — and yet JUSTICE BRENNAN has approved the government's secular celebration of Christmas. See n. 62, supra.

    293

    [66] It is distinctly implausible to view the combined display of the tree, the sign, and the menorah as endorsing the Jewish faith alone. During the time of this litigation, Pittsburgh had a population of 387,000, of which approximately 45,000 were Jews. U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 34 (108th ed. 1988); App. 247. When a city like Pittsburgh places a symbol of Chanukah next to a symbol of Christmas, the result may be a simultaneous endorsement of Christianity and Judaism (depending upon the circumstances of the display). But the city's addition of a visual representation of Chanukah to its pre-existing Christmas display cannot reasonably be understood as an endorsement of Jewish — yet not Christian — belief. Thus, unless the combined Christmas-Chanukah display fairly can be seen as a double endorsement of Christian and Jewish faiths, it must be viewed as celebrating both holidays without endorsing either faith.

    294

    The conclusion that Pittsburgh's combined Christmas-Chanukah display cannot be interpreted as endorsing Judaism alone does not mean, however, that it is implausible, as a general matter, for a city like Pittsburgh to endorse a minority faith. The display of a menorah alone might well have that effect.

    295

    [67] See also Barnett 141-142 (describing the Christmas tree, along with gift giving and Santa Claus, as those aspects of Christmas which have become "so intimately identified with national life" that immigrants feel the need to adopt these customs in order to be a part of American culture). Of course, the tree is capable of taking on a religious significance if it is decorated with religious symbols. Cf. Gilbert, The Season of Good Will and Inter-religious Tension, 24 Reconstructionist 13 (1958) (considering the Christmas tree, without the Star of Bethlehem, as one of "the cultural aspects of the Christmas celebration").

    296

    [68] Although the Christmas tree represents the secular celebration of Christmas, its very association with Christmas (a holiday with religious dimensions) makes it conceivable that the tree might be seen as representing Christian religion when displayed next to an object associated with Jewish religion. For this reason, I agree with JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE STEVENS that one must ask whether the tree and the menorah together endorse the religious beliefs of Christians and Jews. For the reasons stated in the text, however, I conclude the city's overall display does not have this impermissible effect.

    297

    [69] Contrary to the assertions of JUSTICE O'CONNOR and JUSTICE KENNEDY, I have not suggested here that the government's failure to use an available secular alternative necessarily results in an Establishment Clause violation. Rather, it suffices to say that the availability or unavailability of secular alternatives is an obvious factor to be considered in deciding whether the government's use of a religious symbol amounts to an endorsement of religious faith.

    298

    [70] In Lynch, in contrast, there was no need for Pawtucket to include a creche in order to convey a secular message about Christmas. See 465 U. S., at 726-727 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting). Thus, unless the addition of the creche to the Pawtucket display was recognized as an endorsement of Christian faith, the creche there was "relegated to the role of a neutral harbinger of the holiday season," id., at 727, serving no function different from that performed by the secular symbols of Christmas. But the same cannot be said of the addition of the menorah to the Pittsburgh display. The inclusion of the menorah here broadens the Pittsburgh display to refer not only to Christmas but also to Chanukah — a different holiday belonging to a different tradition. It does not demean Jewish faith or the religious significance of the menorah to say that the menorah in this context represents the holiday of Chanukah as a whole (with religious and secular aspects), just as the Christmas tree in this context can be said to represent the holiday of Christmas as a whole (with itsreligious and secular aspects).

    299

    Thus, the menorah retains its religious significance even in this display, but it does not follow that the city has endorsed religious belief over nonbelief. In displaying the menorah next to the tree, the city has demonstrated no preference for the religious celebration of the holiday season. This conclusion, however, would be untenable had the city substituted a creche for its Christmas tree or if the city had failed to substitute for the menorah an alternative, more secular, representation of Chanukah.

    300

    [71] This is not to say that the combined display of a Christmas tree and a menorah is constitutional wherever it may be located on government property. For example, when located in a public school, such a display might raise additional constitutional considerations. Cf. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S., at 583-584 (Establishment Clause must be applied with special sensitivity in the public-school context).

    301

    [72] In addition, nothing in this opinion forecloses the possibility that on other facts a menorah display could constitute an impermissible endorsement of religion. Indeed, there is some evidence in this record that in the past Chabad lit the menorah in front of the City-County Building in a religious ceremony that included the recitation of traditional religious blessings. See App. 281. Respondents, however, did not challenge this practice, there are no factual findings on it, and the Court of Appeals did not consider it in deciding that the display of a menorah in this location necessarily endorses Judaism. See 842 F. 2d, at 662.

    302

    There is also some suggestion in the record that Chabad advocates the public display of menorahs as part of its own proselytizing mission, but again there have been no relevant factual findings that would enable this Court to conclude that Pittsburgh has endorsed Chabad's particular proselytizing message. Of course, nothing in this opinion forecloses a challenge to a menorah display based on such factual findings.

    303

    [73] If it is not religious pluralism that the display signifies, then I do not know what kind of "pluralism" JUSTICE O'CONNOR has in mind. Perhaps she means the cultural pluralism that results from recognition of many different holidays, religious and nonreligious. In that case, however, the display of a menorah next to a giant firecracker, symbolic of the Fourth of July, would seem to be equally representative of this pluralism, yet I do not sense that this display would pass muster under JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S view. If, instead, JUSTICE O'CONNOR means to approve the pluralistic message associated with a symbolic display that may stand for either the secular or religious aspects of a given holiday, then this view would logically entail the conclusion that the display of a Latin cross next to an Easter bunny in the springtime would be valid under the Establishment Clause; again, however, I sense that such a conclusion would not comport with JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S views. The final possibility, and the one that seems most consonant with the views outlined in her opinion, see ante, at 635, is that the pluralism that JUSTICE O'CONNOR perceives in Pittsburgh's display arises from the recognition that there are many different ways to celebrate "the winter holiday season," ante, at 636. But winter is "the holiday season" to Christians, not to Jews, and the implicit message that it, rather than autumn, is the time for pluralism sends an impermissible signal that only holidays stemming from Christianity, not those arising from other religions, favorably dispose the government towards "pluralism." See infra, at 645.

    304

    [74] The history of religious establishments is discussed in, e.g.,J. Swomley, Religious Liberty and the Secular State 24-41 (1987) (Swomley). See generally L. Levy, The Establishment Clause (1986) (Levy). One historian describes the situation at the time of the passage of the First Amendment as follows:

    305

    "In America there was no establishment of a single church, as in England. Four states had never adopted any establishment practices. Three had abolished their establishments during the Revolution. The remaining six states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia — changed to comprehensive or `multiple' establishments. That is, aid was provided to all churches in each state on a nonpreferential basis, except that the establishment was limited to churches of the Protestant religion in three states and to those of the Christian religion in the other three states. Since there were almost no Catholics in the first group of states, and very few Jews in any state, this meant that the multiple establishment practices included every religious group with enough members to form a church. It was this nonpreferential assistance to organized churches that constituted `establishment of religion' in 1791, and it was this practice that the amendment forbade Congress to adopt." C. Pritchett, The American Constitution 401 (3d ed. 1977).

    306

    [75] For a comprehensive narration of this process, see Levy 75-89. See also, e.g., Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 92-97 (1985) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); Swomley 43-49; Drakeman, Religion and the Republic: James Madison and the First Amendment, in James Madison on Religious Liberty 233-235 (R. Alley ed. 1985).

    307

    [76] "Other members of the established church also disapproved taxation for religious purposes. One of these, James Sullivan, who was later elected Governor of Massachusetts, wrote about such taxation: `This glaring piece of religious tyranny was founded upon one or the other of these suppositions: that the church members were more religious, had more understanding, or had a higher privilege than, or a preeminence over those who were not in full communion, or in other words, that their growth in grace or religious requirements, gave them the right of taking and disposing of the property of other people against their consent.'

    308

    "The struggle for religious liberty in Massachusetts was the struggle against taxation for religious purposes. In that struggle there was civil disobedience; there were appeals to the Court and to the Crown in faraway England. Societies were organized to fight the tax. Even after some denominations had won the right to be taxed only for their own churches or meetings, they continued to resist the tax, even on the nonpreferential basis by which all organized religious groups received tax funds. Finally, the state senate, which had refused to end establishment, voted in 1831 to submit the issue to the people. The vote, which took place in 1833, was 32,234 for disestablishment to 3,273 for keeping the multiple establishments of religion. It was a 10 to 1 vote, and in 1834 the amendment was made effective by legislation." Swomley 28.

    309

    Cf. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 432 (1962) ("Another purpose of the Establishment Clause rested upon an awareness of the historical fact that governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand").

    310

    [77] This proscription applies to the States by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 48-55.

    311

    [78] "Respect," as defined in T. Sheridan, A Complete Dictionary of the English Language (6th ed. 1796). See S. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (7th ed. 1785); see also The Oxford English Dictionary 733-734 (1989); Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 1004 (1988).

    312

    [79] The criticism that JUSTICE KENNEDY levels at JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S endorsement standard for evaluating symbolic speech, see post, at 668-678, is not only "uncharitable," post, at 675, but also largely unfounded. Inter alia, he neglects to mention that 1 of the 2 articles he cites as disfavoring the endorsement test, post, at 669, itself cites no fewer than 16 articles and 1 book lauding the test. See Smith, Symbols, Perceptions, and Doctrinal Illusions: Establishment Neutrality and the "No Endorsement" Test, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 266, 274, n. 45 (1987). JUSTICE KENNEDY'S preferred "coercion" test, moreover, is, as he himself admits, post,at 660, out of step with our precedent. The Court has stated:

    313

    "The Establishment Clause, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, does not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not." Engel, 370 U. S., at 430.

    314

    Even if the law were not so, it seems unlikely that "coercion" identifies the line between permissible and impermissible religious displays any more brightly than does "endorsement."

    315

    [80] In a similar vein, we have interpreted the Amendment's strictly worded Free Speech and Free Press Clauses to raise a strong presumption against, rather than to ban outright, state abridgment of communications. See, e.g., Roaden v. Kentucky, 413 U. S. 496, 504 (1973). By suggesting such a presumption plays a role in considering governmental symbolic speech about religion, I do not retreat from my position that a " `high and impregnable' wall" should separate government funds from parochial schools' treasuries. See Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 671 (1980) (STEVENS, J., dissenting) (quoting Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 18 (1947)).

    316

    [81] The point is reiterated here by amicus the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U. S. A., which argues that "government acceptance of a creche on public property . . . secularizes and degrades a sacred symbol of Christianity," Brief for American Jewish Committee et al. as Amici Curiae ii. See also Engel, 370 U. S., at 431. Indeed two Roman Catholics testified before the District Court in this case that the creche display offended them. App. 79-80, 93-96.

    317

    [82] See Brief for American Jewish Committee et al. as Amici Curiae i-ii; Brief for American Jewish Congress et al. as Amici Curiae 1-2; Tr. of Oral Arg. 44.

    318

    [83] These cases illustrate the danger that governmental displays of religious symbols may give rise to unintended divisiveness, for the net result of the Court's disposition is to disallow the display of the creche but to allow the display of the menorah. Laypersons unfamiliar with the intricacies of Establishment Clause jurisprudence may reach the wholly unjustified conclusion that the Court itself is preferring one faith over another. See Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U. S. 503, 512-513 (1986) (STEVENS, J., concurring). Cf. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 623 (1971) ("[T]he Constitution's authors sought to protect religious worship from the pervasive power of government"); Engel, 370 U. S., at 430 ("Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral nor the fact that its observance on the part of the students is voluntary can serve to free it from the limitations of the Establishment Clause").

    319

    [84] The suggestion that the only alternative to governmental support of religion is governmental hostility to it represents a giant step backward in our Religion Clause jurisprudence. Indeed in its first contemporary examination of the Establishment Clause, the Court, while differing on how to apply the principle, unanimously agreed that government could not require believers or nonbelievers to support religions. Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing, 330 U. S., at 15-16; see also id., at 31-33 (Rutledge, J., dissenting). Accord, Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 52-55.

    320

    [85] Cf. New York v. Ferber, 458 U. S. 747, 778 (1982) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment) ("The question whether a specific act of communication is protected by the First Amendment always requires some consideration of both its content and its context").

    321

    [86] All these leaders, of course, appear in friezes on the walls of our courtroom. See The Supreme Court of the United States 31 (published with the cooperation of the Historical Society of the Supreme Court of the United States).

    322

    [87] The Court long ago rejected a contention similar to that JUSTICE KENNEDY advances today:

    323

    "It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit state laws respecting an establishment of religious services in public schools is to indicate a hostility toward religion or toward prayer. Nothing, of course, could be more wrong. The history of man is inseparable from the history of religion. . . . [Early Americans] knew that the First Amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either. They knew rather that it was written to quiet well-justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men's tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to. It is neither sacrilegious nor antireligious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance." Engel, 370 U. S., at 433-435 (footnotes omitted).

    324

    [88] After the judge and counsel for both sides agreed at a preliminary injunction hearing that the menorah was a religious symbol, App. 144-145, a rabbi testified as an expert witness that the menorah and the creche "are comparable symbols, that they both represent what we perceive to be miracles," id., at 146, and that he had never "heard of Hanukkah being declared a general secular holiday in the United States," id., at 148. Although a witness for intervenor Chabad testified at a later hearing that "[w]hen used on Hanukkah in the home it is definitely symbolizing a religious ritual . . . whereas, at other times the menorah can symbolize anything that one wants it to symbolize," id., at 240, he also agreed that lighting the menorah in a public place "probably would" publicize the miracle it represents, id.,at 263.

    325

    Nonetheless, JUSTICE BLACKMUN attaches overriding secular meaning to the menorah. Ante, at 613-616. Contra, ante, 632-634 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); ante, at 638, 641-643 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); post, at 664 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). He reaches this conclusion only after exhaustive reference, not only to facts of record but primarily to academic treatises, to assess the degrees to which the menorah, the tree, and the creche are religious or secular. Ante, at 579-587, 616.

    326

    [89] JUSTICE STEVENS is incorrect when he asserts that requiring a showing of direct or indirect coercion in Establishment Clause cases is "out of step with our precedent." Ante, at 650, n. 6. As is demonstrated by the language JUSTICE STEVENS quotes from Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 430 (1962), our cases have held only that direct coercion need not always be shown to establish an Establishment Clause violation. The prayer invalidated in Engel was unquestionably coercive in an indirect manner, as the Engel Court itself recognized in the sentences immediately following the passage JUSTICE STEVENS chooses to quote. Id., at 430-431.

    327

    [90] The majority rejects the suggestion that the display of the creche can "be justified as an `accommodation' of religion," because it "does not remove any burden on the free exercise of Christianity." Ante, at 601, n. 51. Contrary to the assumption implicit in this analysis, however, we have never held that government's power to accommodate and recognize religion extends no further than the requirements of the Free Exercise Clause. To the contrary, "[t]he limits of permissible state accommodation to religion are by no means coextensive with the non-interference mandated by the Free Exercise Clause." Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S. 664, 673 (1970). Cf. Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1, 38 (1989) (SCALIA, J., dissenting).

    328

    [91] One can imagine a case in which the use of passive symbols to acknowledge religious holidays could present this danger. For example, if a city chose to recognize, through religious displays, every significant Christian holiday while ignoring the holidays of all other faiths, the argument that the city was simply recognizing certain holidays celebrated by its citizens without establishing an official faith or applying pressure to obtain adherents would be much more difficult to maintain. On the facts of these cases, no such unmistakable and continual preference for one faith has been demonstrated or alleged.

    329

    [92] The majority suggests that our approval of legislative prayer in Marsh v. Chambers is to be distinguished from these cases on the ground that legislative prayer is nonsectarian, while creches and menorahs are not. Ante, at 603. In the first place, of course, this purported distinction is utterly inconsistent with the majority's belief that the Establishment Clause "mean[s] no official preference even for religion over nonreligion." Ante, at 605. If year-round legislative prayer does not express "official preference for religion over nonreligion," a creche or menorah display in the context of the holiday season certainly does not "demonstrate a preference for one particular sect or creed." Ibid. Moreover, the majority chooses to ignore the Court's opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984), which applied precisely the same analysis as that I apply today: "[T]o conclude that the primary effect of including the creche is to advance religion in violation of the Establishment Clause would require that we view it as more beneficial to and more an endorsement of religion . . . than . . . the legislative prayers upheld in Marsh v. Chambers . . . ." Id., at 681-682.

    330

    [93] The creche in Lynch was owned by Pawtucket. Neither the creche nor the menorah at issue in this case is owned by a governmental entity.

    331

    [94] The majority illustrates the depth of its error in this regard by going so far as to refer to the concurrence and dissent in Lynch as "[o]ur previous opinions. . . ." Ante, at 602.

    332

    [95] Contrary to the majority's discussion, ante, at 604-605, and nn. 53-54, the relevant historical practices are those conducted by governmental units which were subject to the constraints of the Establishment Clause. Acts of "official discrimination against non-Christians" perpetrated in the 18th and 19th centuries by States and municipalities are of course irrelevant to this inquiry, but the practices of past Congresses and Presidents are highly informative.

    333

    [96] In keeping with his strict views of the degree of separation mandated by the Establishment Clause, Thomas Jefferson declined to follow this tradition. See 11 Writings of Thomas Jefferson 429 (A. Lipscomb ed. 1904).

    334

    [97]Similarly, our Presidential inaugurations have traditionally opened with a request for divine blessing. At our most recent such occasion, on January 20, 1989, thousands bowed their heads in prayer to this invocation:

    335

    "Our Father and our God, Thou hast said blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

    "We recognize on this historic occasion that we are a nation under God. This faith in God is our foundation and our heritage. . . .

    .....

    "As George Washington reminded us in his Farewell Address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society. May we never forget that.

    .....

    "We acknowledge Thy divine help in the selection of our leadership each 4 years.

    .....

    "All this we pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen." 135 Cong. Rec. 303 (1989) (Rev. Billy Graham).

    336

    [98] If the majority's test were to be applied logically, it would lead to the elimination of all nonsecular Christmas caroling in public buildings or, presumably, anywhere on public property. It is difficult to argue that lyrics like "Good Christian men, rejoice," "Joy to the world! the Savior reigns," "This, this is Christ the King," "Christ, by highest heav'n adored," and "Come and behold Him, Born the King of angels" have acquired such a secular nature that nonadherents would not feel "left out" by a government-sponsored or approved program that included these carols. See W. Ehret & G. Evans, The International Book of Christmas Carols 12, 28, 30, 46, 318 (1963). We do not think for a moment that the Court will ban such carol programs, however. Like Thanksgiving Proclamations, the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance, and invocations to God in sessions of Congress and of this Court, they constitute practices that the Court will not proscribe, but that the Court's reasoning today does not explain.

    337

    [99] JUSTICE BLACKMUN and JUSTICE O'CONNOR defend the majority's test by suggesting that the approach followed in Lynch would require equally difficult line drawing. Ante, at 606; ante, at 629-630 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). It is true that the Lynch test may involve courts in difficult line-drawing in the unusual case where a municipality insists on such extreme use of religious speech that an establishment of religion is threatened. See supra, at 661. Only adoption of the absolutist views that either all government involvement with religion is permissible, or that none is, can provide a bright line in all cases. That price for clarity is neither exacted nor permitted by the Constitution. But for the most part, JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S and JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S objections are not well taken. As a practical matter, the only cases of symbolic recognition likely to arise with much frequency are those involving simple holiday displays, and in that context Lynch provides unambiguous guidance. I would follow it. The majority's test, on the other hand, demands the Court to draw exquisite distinctions from fine detail in a wide range of cases. The anomalous result the test has produced here speaks for itself.

    338

    [100] Of course, a majority of the Court today rejects JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S approach in this regard. See ante, at 636-637 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).

  • 3 McCreary County v. ACLU of KY

    1
    545 U.S. 844 (2005)
    2
    McCREARY COUNTY, KENTUCKY, ET AL.
    v.
    AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF KENTUCKY ET AL.
    3
    No. 03-1693.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued March 2, 2005.
    5
    Decided June 27, 2005.
    6

    [849] Mathew D. Staver argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Erik W. Stanley, Rena M. Lindevaldsen, Bruce W. Green, and Mary E. McAlister.

    7

    Acting Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katsas, Patricia A. Millett, Robert M. Loeb, and Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr.

    8

    David A. Friedman argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Lili R. Lutgens and Steven R. Shapiro.[1]

    9
    [850] JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
    10

    Executives of two counties posted a version of the Ten Commandments on the walls of their courthouses. After suits were filed charging violations of the Establishment Clause, the legislative body of each county adopted a resolution calling for a more extensive exhibit meant to show that the Commandments are Kentucky's "precedent legal code," Def. Exh. 1 in Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Civ. Action No. 99-507, p. 1 (ED Ky.) (hereinafter Def. Exh. 1). The result in each instance was a modified display of the Commandments surrounded by texts containing religious references as their sole common element. After changing counsel, the counties revised the exhibits again by eliminating some documents, expanding the text set out in another, and adding some new ones.

    11

    The issues are whether a determination of the counties' purpose is a sound basis for ruling on the Establishment Clause complaints, and whether evaluation of the counties' claim of secular purpose for the ultimate displays may take their evolution into account. We hold that the counties' manifest objective may be dispositive of the constitutional [851] enquiry, and that the development of the presentation should be considered when determining its purpose.

    12
    I
    13

    In the summer of 1999, petitioners McCreary County and Pulaski County, Kentucky (hereinafter Counties), put up in their respective courthouses large, gold-framed copies of an abridged text of the King James version of the Ten Commandments, including a citation to the Book of Exodus.[2] In McCreary County, the placement of the Commandments responded to an order of the county legislative body requiring "the display [to] be posted in `a very high traffic area' of the courthouse." 96 F. Supp. 2d 679, 684 (ED Ky. 2000). In Pulaski County, amidst reported controversy over the propriety of the display, the Commandments were hung in a ceremony presided over by the county Judge-Executive, who called them "good rules to live by" and who recounted the story of an astronaut who became convinced "there must be a divine God" after viewing the Earth from the moon. Dodson, Commonwealth Journal, July 25, 1999, p. A1, col. 2, in Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction in Civ. Action No. 99-509 (ED Ky.) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Judge-Executive was accompanied by the pastor of his church, who called the Commandments "a creed of ethics" and told the press after the ceremony that displaying the Commandments was "one of the greatest things the judge could have done to close out the millennium." Id., at A2, col. 3 (internal quotation marks omitted). In both Counties, this was the version of the Commandments posted:

    14

    "Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

    [852] "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.

    "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

    "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

    "Honor thy father and thy mother.

    "Thou shalt not kill.

    "Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    "Thou shalt not steal.

    "Thou shalt not bear false witness.

    "Thou shalt not covet.

    "Exodus 20:3-17."[3] Def. Exh. 9 in Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Civ. Action No. 99-507 (ED Ky.) (hereinafter Def. Exh. 9).

    15

    In each County, the hallway display was "readily visible to . . . county citizens who use the courthouse to conduct their civic business, to obtain or renew driver's licenses and permits, to register cars, to pay local taxes, and to register to vote." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 684; American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky v. Pulaski County, 96 F. Supp. 2d 691, 695 (ED Ky. 2000).

    16

    In November 1999, respondents American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky et al. sued the Counties in Federal District Court under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U. S. C. § 1983, and sought a preliminary injunction against maintaining the displays, which the ACLU charged were violations of the prohibition of religious establishment included in the First Amendment of the Constitution.[4] Within a month, and before [853] the District Court had responded to the request for injunction, the legislative body of each County authorized a second, expanded display, by nearly identical resolutions reciting that the Ten Commandments are "the precedent legal code upon which the civil and criminal codes of . . . Kentucky are founded," and stating several grounds for taking that position: that "the Ten Commandments are codified in Kentucky's civil and criminal laws"; that the Kentucky House of Representatives had in 1993 "voted unanimously . . . to adjourn . . . `in remembrance and honor of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Ethics'"; that the "County Judge and . . . magistrates agree with the arguments set out by Judge [Roy] Moore" in defense of his "display [of] the Ten Commandments in his courtroom"; and that the "Founding Father[s] [had an] explicit understanding of the duty of elected officials to publicly acknowledge God as the source of America's strength and direction." Def. Exh. 1, at 1-3, 6.

    17

    As directed by the resolutions, the Counties expanded the displays of the Ten Commandments in their locations, presumably along with copies of the resolution, which instructed that it, too, be posted, id., at 9. In addition to the first display's large framed copy of the edited King James version of the Commandments,[5] the second included eight other documents in smaller frames, each either having a religious [854] theme or excerpted to highlight a religious element. The documents were the "endowed by their Creator" passage from the Declaration of Independence; the Preamble to the Constitution of Kentucky; the national motto, "In God We Trust"; a page from the Congressional Record of February 2, 1983, proclaiming the Year of the Bible and including a statement of the Ten Commandments; a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln designating April 30, 1863, a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation; an excerpt from President Lincoln's "Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible," reading that "[t]he Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man"; a proclamation by President Reagan marking 1983 the Year of the Bible; and the Mayflower Compact. 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 684; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 695-696.

    18

    After argument, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction on May 5, 2000, ordering that the "display ... be removed from [each] County Courthouse IMMEDIATELY" and that no county official "erect or cause to be erected similar displays." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 691; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 702-703. The court's analysis of the situation followed the three-part formulation first stated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971). As to governmental purpose, it concluded that the original display "lack[ed] any secular purpose" because the Commandments "are a distinctly religious document, believed by many Christians and Jews to be the direct and revealed word of God." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 686; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 698. Although the Counties had maintained that the original display was meant to be educational, "[t]he narrow scope of the display—a single religious text unaccompanied by any interpretation explaining its role as a foundational document—can hardly be said to present meaningfully the story of this country's religious traditions." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 686-687; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 698. The court found that the second version also "clearly lack[ed] a secular purpose" because the "Count[ies] narrowly tailored [their] selection of [855] foundational documents to incorporate only those with specific references to Christianity."[6] 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 687; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 699.

    19

    The Counties filed a notice of appeal from the preliminary injunction but voluntarily dismissed it after hiring new lawyers. They then installed another display in each court-house, the third within a year. No new resolution authorized this one, nor did the Counties repeal the resolutions that preceded the second. The posting consists of nine framed documents of equal size, one of them setting out the Ten Commandments explicitly identified as the "King James Version" at Exodus 20:3-17, 145 F. Supp. 2d 845, 847 (ED Ky. 2001), and quoted at greater length than before:

    20

    "Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

    "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under-neath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

    "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

    "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

    "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

    "Thou shalt not kill.

    [856] "Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    "Thou shalt not steal.

    "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

    "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet th[y] neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is th[y] neighbour's." App. to Pet. for Cert. 189a.

    21

    Assembled with the Commandments are framed copies of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, the May-flower Compact, the National Motto, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, and a picture of Lady Justice. The collection is entitled "The Foundations of American Law and Government Display" and each document comes with a statement about its historical and legal significance. The comment on the Ten Commandments reads:

    22
    "The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition." Id., at 180a.
    23

    The ACLU moved to supplement the preliminary injunction to enjoin the Counties' third display,[7] and the Counties responded with several explanations for the new version, including [857] desires "to demonstrate that the Ten Commandments were part of the foundation of American Law and Government" and "to educate the citizens of the county regarding some of the documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government." 145 F. Supp. 2d, at 848 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court, however, took the objective of proclaiming the Commandments' foundational value as "a religious, rather than secular, purpose" under Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam), 145 F. Supp. 2d, at 849, and found that the assertion that the Counties' broader educational goals are secular "crumble[s] ... upon an examination of the history of this litigation," ibid. In light of the Counties' decision to post the Commandments by themselves in the first instance, contrary to Stone, and later to "accentuat[e]" the religious objective by surrounding the Commandments with "specific references to Christianity," the District Court understood the Counties' "clear" purpose as being to post the Commandments, not to educate.[8] 145 F. Supp. 2d, at 849-850 (internal quotation marks omitted).

    24

    As requested, the trial court supplemented the injunction, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Circuit majority stressed that under Stone, displaying the Commandments bespeaks a religious object unless they are integrated with other material so as to carry "a secular message," 354 F. 3d 438, 449 (2003). The majority judges saw no integration here because of a "lack of a demonstrated analytical or historical connection [between [858] the Commandments and] the other documents." Id., at 451. They noted in particular that the Counties offered no support for their claim that the Ten Commandments "provide[d] the moral backdrop" to the Declaration of Independence or otherwise "profoundly influenced" it. Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). The majority found that the Counties' purpose was religious, not educational, given the nature of the Commandments as "an active symbol of religion [stating] `the religious duties of believers.'" Id., at 455. The judges in the majority understood the identical displays to emphasize "a single religious influence, with no mention of any other religious or secular influences," id., at 454, and they took the very history of the litigation as evidence of the Counties' religious objective, id., at 457.

    25

    Judge Ryan dissented on the basis of wide recognition that religion, and the Ten Commandments in particular, have played a foundational part in the evolution of American law and government; he saw no reason to gainsay the Counties' claim of secular purposes. Id., at 472-473. The dissent denied that the prior displays should have any bearing on the constitutionality of the current one: a "history of unconstitutional displays can[not] be used as a sword to strike down an otherwise constitutional display."[9] Id., at 478.

    26

    We granted certiorari, 543 U. S. 924 (2004), and now affirm.

    27
    [859] II
    28

    Twenty-five years ago in a case prompted by posting the Ten Commandments in Kentucky's public schools, this Court recognized that the Commandments "are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths" and held that their display in public classrooms violated the First Amendment's bar against establishment of religion. Stone, 449 U. S., at 41. Stone found a predominantly religious purpose in the government's posting of the Commandments, given their prominence as "`an instrument of religion,'" id., at 41, n. 3 (quoting School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 224 (1963)). The Counties ask for a different approach here by arguing that official purpose is unknowable and the search for it inherently vain. In the alternative, the Counties would avoid the District Court's conclusion by having us limit the scope of the purpose enquiry so severely that any trivial rationalization would suffice, under a standard oblivious to the history of religious government action like the progression of exhibits in this case.

    29
    A
    30

    Ever since Lemon v. Kurtzman summarized the three familiar considerations for evaluating Establishment Clause claims, looking to whether government action has "a secular legislative purpose" has been a common, albeit seldom dispositive, element of our cases. 403 U. S., at 612. Though we have found government action motivated by an illegitimate purpose only four times since Lemon,[10] and "the secular purpose requirement alone may rarely be determinative . . ., it nevertheless serves an important function."[11] Wallace v. [860] Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 75 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment).

    31

    The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the "First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion." Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 104 (1968); Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 15-16 (1947); Wallace, supra, at 53. When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality, there being no neutrality when the government's ostensible object is to take sides. Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327, 335 (1987) ("Lemon's `purpose' requirement aims at preventing [government] from abandoning neutrality and acting with the intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters"). Manifesting a purpose to favor one faith over another, or adherence to religion generally, clashes with the "understanding, reached . . . after decades of religious war, that liberty and social stability demand a religious tolerance that respects the religious views of all citizens ...." Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639, 718 (2002) (BREYER, J., dissenting). By showing a purpose to favor religion, the government "sends the . . . message to . . . nonadherents `that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members . . . .'" Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 309-310 (2000) (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 688 (1984) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring)).

    32

    Indeed, the purpose apparent from government action can have an impact more significant than the result expressly [861] decreed: when the government maintains Sunday closing laws, it advances religion only minimally because many working people would take the day as one of rest regardless, but if the government justified its decision with a stated desire for all Americans to honor Christ, the divisive thrust of the official action would be inescapable. This is the teaching of McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961), which upheld Sunday closing statutes on practical, secular grounds after finding that the government had forsaken the religious purposes behind centuries-old predecessor laws. Id., at 449-451.

    33
    B
    34

    Despite the intuitive importance of official purpose to the realization of Establishment Clause values, the Counties ask us to abandon Lemon's purpose test, or at least to truncate any enquiry into purpose here. Their first argument is that the very consideration of purpose is deceptive: according to them, true "purpose" is unknowable, and its search merely an excuse for courts to act selectively and unpredictably in picking out evidence of subjective intent. The assertions are as seismic as they are unconvincing.

    35

    Examination of purpose is a staple of statutory interpretation that makes up the daily fare of every appellate court in the country, e.g., General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U. S. 581, 600 (2004) (interpreting statute in light of its "text, structure, purpose, and history"), and governmental purpose is a key element of a good deal of constitutional doctrine, e.g., Washington v. Davis, 426 U. S. 229 (1976) (discriminatory purpose required for Equal Protection violation); Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U. S. 333, 352-353 (1977) (discriminatory purpose relevant to dormant Commerce Clause claim); Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520 (1993) (discriminatory purpose raises level of scrutiny required by free exercise claim). With enquiries into purpose this common, if they were nothing but hunts for mares' nests deflecting [862] attention from bare judicial will, the whole notion of purpose in law would have dropped into disrepute long ago.

    36

    But scrutinizing purpose does make practical sense, as in Establishment Clause analysis, where an understanding of official objective emerges from readily discoverable fact, without any judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter's heart of hearts. Wallace, 472 U. S., at 74 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). The eyes that look to purpose belong to an "`objective observer,'" one who takes account of the traditional external signs that show up in the "`text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute,'" or comparable official act. Santa Fe, supra, at 308 (quoting Wallace, supra, at 76 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment)); see also Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 594-595 (1987) (enquiry looks to "plain meaning of the statute's words, enlightened by their context and the contemporaneous legislative history [and] the historical context of the statute, . . . and the specific sequence of events leading to [its] passage"). There is, then, nothing hinting at an unpredictable or disingenuous exercise when a court enquires into purpose after a claim is raised under the Establishment Clause.

    37

    The cases with findings of a predominantly religious purpose point to the straightforward nature of the test. In Wallace, for example, we inferred purpose from a change of wording from an earlier statute to a later one, each dealing with prayer in schools. 472 U. S., at 58-60. And in Edwards, we relied on a statute's text and the detailed public comments of its sponsor, when we sought the purpose of a state law requiring creationism to be taught alongside evolution. 482 U. S., at 586-588. In other cases, the government action itself bespoke the purpose, as in Abington, where the object of required Bible study in public schools was patently religious, 374 U. S., at 223-224; in Stone, the Court held that the "[p]osting of religious texts on the wall serve[d] no . . . educational function," and found that if "the posted copies of the Ten Commandments [were] to have any effect at all, it [863] [would] be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments." 449 U. S., at 42. In each case, the government's action was held unconstitutional only because openly available data supported a commonsense conclusion that a religious objective permeated the government's action.

    38

    Nor is there any indication that the enquiry is rigged in practice to finding a religious purpose dominant every time a case is filed. In the past, the test has not been fatal very often, presumably because government does not generally act unconstitutionally, with the predominant purpose of advancing religion. That said, one consequence of the corollary that Establishment Clause analysis does not look to the veiled psyche of government officers could be that in some of the cases in which establishment complaints failed, savvy officials had disguised their religious intent so cleverly that the objective observer just missed it. But that is no reason for great constitutional concern. If someone in the government hides religious motive so well that the "`objective observer, acquainted with the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute,'" Santa Fe, 530 U. S., at 308 (quoting Wallace, supra, at 76 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment)), cannot see it, then without something more the government does not make a divisive announcement that in itself amounts to taking religious sides. A secret motive stirs up no strife and does nothing to make outsiders of nonadherents, and it suffices to wait and see whether such government action turns out to have (as it may even be likely to have) the illegitimate effect of advancing religion.

    39
    C
    40

    After declining the invitation to abandon concern with purpose wholesale, we also have to avoid the Counties' alternative tack of trivializing the enquiry into it. The Counties would read the cases as if the purpose enquiry were so naive that any transparent claim to secularity would satisfy it, and [864] they would cut context out of the enquiry, to the point of ignoring history, no matter what bearing it actually had on the significance of current circumstances. There is no precedent for the Counties' arguments, or reason supporting them.

    41
    1
    42

    Lemon said that government action must have "a secular. . . purpose," 403 U. S., at 612, and after a host of cases it is fair to add that although a legislature's stated reasons will generally get deference, the secular purpose required has to be genuine, not a sham, and not merely secondary to a religious objective. See, e.g., Santa Fe, supra, at 308 ("When a governmental entity professes a secular purpose for an arguably religious policy, the government's characterization is, of course, entitled to some deference. But it is nonetheless the duty of the courts to `distinguis[h] a sham secular purpose from a sincere one'"); Edwards, 482 U. S., at 586-587 ("While the Court is normally deferential to a State's articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham"); id., at 590, 594 (referring to enquiry as one into "preeminent" or "primary" purpose); Stone, supra, at 41 (looking to the "pre-eminent purpose" of government action).

    43

    Even the Counties' own cited authority confirms that we have not made the purpose test a pushover for any secular claim. True, Wallace said government action is tainted by its object "if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion," 472 U. S., at 56, a remark that suggests, in isolation, a fairly complaisant attitude. But in that very case the Court declined to credit Alabama's stated secular rationale of "accommodation" for legislation authorizing a period of silence in school for meditation or voluntary prayer, given the implausibility of that explanation in light of another statute already accommodating children wishing to pray. Id., at 57, n. 45 (internal quotation marks omitted). And it would [865] be just as much a mistake to infer that a timid standard underlies the statement in Lynch v. Donnelly that the purpose enquiry looks to whether government "activity was motivated wholly by religious considerations," 465 U. S., at 680; for two cases cited for that proposition had examined and rejected claims of secular purposes that turned out to be implausible or inadequate:[12] Stone, supra, at 41; Abington, 374 U. S., at 223-224.[13] See also Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 602 (1988) (using the "motivated wholly by an impermissible purpose" language, but citing Lynch and Stone). As we said, the Court often does accept governmental statements of purpose, in keeping with the respect owed in the first instance to such official claims. But in those unusual cases where the claim was an apparent sham, or the secular purpose secondary, the unsurprising results have been findings of no adequate secular object, as against a predominantly religious one.[14]

    44
    [866] 2
    45

    The Counties' second proffered limitation can be dispatched quickly. They argue that purpose in a case like this one should be inferred, if at all, only from the latest news about the last in a series of governmental actions, however close they may all be in time and subject. But the world is not made brand new every morning, and the Counties are simply asking us to ignore perfectly probative evidence; they want an absentminded objective observer, not one presumed to be familiar with the history of the government's actions and competent to learn what history has to show, Santa Fe, 530 U. S., at 308 (objective observer is familiar with "`implementation of'" government action (quoting Wallace, supra, at 76 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment))); Edwards, supra, at 595 (enquiry looks to "the historical context of the statute ... and the specific sequence of events leading to [its] passage"); Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U. S. 753, 780 (1995) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) ("[T]he reasonable observer in the endorsement inquiry must be deemed aware of the history and context of the community and forum in which the religious display appears"). The Counties' position just bucks common sense: reasonable observers have reasonable memories, and our precedents sensibly forbid an observer "to turn a blind eye to the context in which [the] policy arose."[15] Santa Fe, supra, at 315.

    46
    [867] III
    47

    This case comes to us on appeal from a preliminary injunction. We accordingly review the District Court's legal rulings de novo, and its ultimate conclusion for abuse of discretion.[16] Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 542 U. S. 656 (2004).

    48

    We take Stone as the initial legal benchmark, our only case dealing with the constitutionality of displaying the Commandments. Stone recognized that the Commandments are an "instrument of religion" and that, at least on the facts before it, the display of their text could presumptively be understood as meant to advance religion: although state law specifically required their posting in public school classrooms, their isolated exhibition did not leave room even for an argument that secular education explained their being there. 449 U. S., at 41, n. 3 (internal quotation marks omitted). But Stone did not purport to decide the constitutionality of every possible way the Commandments might be set out by the government, and under the Establishment Clause detail is key. County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 595 [868] (1989) (opinion of Blackmun, J.) ("[T]he question is what viewers may fairly understand to be the purpose of the display. That inquiry, of necessity, turns upon the context in which the contested object appears" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Hence, we look to the record of evidence showing the progression leading up to the third display of the Commandments.

    49
    A
    50

    The display rejected in Stone had two obvious similarities to the first one in the sequence here: both set out a text of the Commandments as distinct from any traditionally symbolic representation, and each stood alone, not part of an arguably secular display. Stone stressed the significance of integrating the Commandments into a secular scheme to forestall the broadcast of an otherwise clearly religious message, 449 U. S., at 42, and for good reason, the Commandments being a central point of reference in the religious and moral history of Jews and Christians. They proclaim the existence of a monotheistic god (no other gods). They regulate details of religious obligation (no graven images, no sabbath breaking, no vain oath swearing). And they unmistakably rest even the universally accepted prohibitions (as against murder, theft, and the like) on the sanction of the divinity proclaimed at the beginning of the text. Displaying that text is thus different from a symbolic depiction, like tablets with 10 roman numerals, which could be seen as alluding to a general notion of law, not a sectarian conception of faith. Where the text is set out, the insistence of the religious message is hard to avoid in the absence of a context plausibly suggesting a message going beyond an excuse to promote the religious point of view. The display in Stone had no context that might have indicated an object beyond the religious character of the text, and the Counties' solo exhibit here did nothing more to counter the sectarian implication than the [869] postings at issue in Stone.[17] See also County of Allegheny, supra, at 598 ("Here, unlike in Lynch [v. Donnelly], nothing in the context of the display detracts from the crèche's religious message"). Actually, the posting by the Counties lacked even the Stone display's implausible disclaimer that the Commandments were set out to show their effect on the civil law.[18] What is more, at the ceremony for posting the framed Commandments in Pulaski County, the county executive was accompanied by his pastor, who testified to the certainty of the existence of God. The reasonable observer could only think that the Counties meant to emphasize and celebrate the Commandments' religious message.

    51

    This is not to deny that the Commandments have had influence on civil or secular law; a major text of a majority religion is bound to be felt. The point is simply that the original text viewed in its entirety is an unmistakably religious statement dealing with religious obligations and with morality subject to religious sanction. When the government initiates an effort to place this statement alone in public view, a religious object is unmistakable.

    52
    B
    53

    Once the Counties were sued, they modified the exhibits and invited additional insight into their purpose in a display that hung for about six months. This new one was the product of forthright and nearly identical Pulaski and McCreary County resolutions listing a series of American historical documents with theistic and Christian references, which [870] were to be posted in order to furnish a setting for displaying the Ten Commandments and any "other Kentucky and American historical documen[t]" without raising concern about "any Christian or religious references" in them. Def. Exh. 1, at 1. As mentioned, the resolutions expressed support for an Alabama judge who posted the Commandments in his courtroom, and cited the fact the Kentucky Legislature once adjourned a session in honor of "Jesus Christ, the Prince of Ethics." Id., at 2-3.

    54

    In this second display, unlike the first, the Commandments were not hung in isolation, merely leaving the Counties' purpose to emerge from the pervasively religious text of the Commandments themselves. Instead, the second version was required to include the statement of the government's purpose expressly set out in the county resolutions, and underscored it by juxtaposing the Commandments to other documents with highlighted references to God as their sole common element. The display's unstinting focus was on religious passages, showing that the Counties were posting the Commandments precisely because of their sectarian content. That demonstration of the government's objective was enhanced by serial religious references and the accompanying resolution's claim about the embodiment of ethics in Christ. Together, the display and resolution presented an indisputable, and undisputed, showing of an impermissible purpose.

    55

    Today, the Counties make no attempt to defend their undeniable objective, but instead hopefully describe version two as "dead and buried." Reply Brief for Petitioners 15. Their refusal to defend the second display is understandable, but the reasonable observer could not forget it.

    56
    C
    57
    1
    58

    After the Counties changed lawyers, they mounted a third display, without a new resolution or repeal of the old one. The result was the "Foundations of American Law and Government" [871] exhibit, which placed the Commandments in the company of other documents the Counties thought especially significant in the historical foundation of American government. In trying to persuade the District Court to lift the preliminary injunction, the Counties cited several new purposes for the third version, including a desire "to educate the citizens of the county regarding some of the documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government."[19] 145 F. Supp. 2d, at 848 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Counties' claims did not, however, persuade the court, intimately familiar with the details of this litigation, or the Court of Appeals, neither of which found a legitimizing secular purpose in this third version of the display. "`When both courts [that have already passed on the case] are unable to discern an arguably valid secular purpose, this Court normally should hesitate to find one.'" Edwards, 482 U. S., at 594, n. 15 (quoting Wallace, 472 U. S., at 66 (Powell, J., concurring)). The conclusions of the two courts preceding us in this case are well warranted.

    59

    These new statements of purpose were presented only as a litigating position, there being no further authorizing action by the Counties' governing boards. And although repeal of the earlier county authorizations would not have erased them from the record of evidence bearing on current purpose,[20] the extraordinary resolutions for the second display passed just months earlier were not repealed or otherwise [872] repudiated.[21] Indeed, the sectarian spirit of the common resolution found enhanced expression in the third display, which quoted more of the purely religious language of the Commandments than the first two displays had done; for additions, see App. to Pet. for Cert. 189a ("I the LORD thy God am a jealous God") (text of Second Commandment in third display); ("the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain") (text of Third Commandment); and ("that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee") (text of Fifth Commandment). No reasonable observer could swallow the claim that the Counties had cast off the objective so unmistakable in the earlier displays.

    60

    Nor did the selection of posted material suggest a clear theme that might prevail over evidence of the continuing religious object. In a collection of documents said to be "foundational" to American government, it is at least odd to include a patriotic anthem, but to omit the Fourteenth Amendment, the most significant structural provision adopted since the original Framing. And it is no less baffling to leave out the original Constitution of 1787 while quoting the 1215 Magna Carta even to the point of its declaration that "fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames." Id., at 205a, ¶ 33. If an observer found these choices and omissions perplexing in isolation, he would be puzzled for a [873] different reason when he read the Declaration of Independence seeking confirmation for the Counties' posted explanation that the Ten Commandments'"influence is clearly seen in the Declaration," id., at 180a; in fact the observer would find that the Commandments are sanctioned as divine imperatives, while the Declaration of Independence holds that the authority of government to enforce the law derives "from the consent of the governed," id., at 190a.[22] If the observer had not thrown up his hands, he would probably suspect that the Counties were simply reaching for any way to keep a religious document on the walls of courthouses constitutionally required to embody religious neutrality.[23]

    61
    2
    62

    In holding the preliminary injunction adequately supported by evidence that the Counties' purpose had not changed at the third stage, we do not decide that the Counties' [874] past actions forever taint any effort on their part to deal with the subject matter. We hold only that purpose needs to be taken seriously under the Establishment Clause and needs to be understood in light of context; an implausible claim that governmental purpose has changed should not carry the day in a court of law any more than in a head with common sense. It is enough to say here that district courts are fully capable of adjusting preliminary relief to take account of genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions. See Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 542 U. S. 656 (2004).

    63

    Nor do we have occasion here to hold that a sacred text can never be integrated constitutionally into a governmental display on the subject of law, or American history. We do not forget, and in this litigation have frequently been reminded, that our own courtroom frieze was deliberately designed in the exercise of governmental authority so as to include the figure of Moses holding tablets exhibiting a portion of the Hebrew text of the later, secularly phrased Commandments; in the company of 17 other lawgivers, most of them secular figures, there is no risk that Moses would strike an observer as evidence that the National Government was violating neutrality in religion.[24]

    64
    IV
    65

    The importance of neutrality as an interpretive guide is no less true now than it was when the Court broached the principle in Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1 (1947), and a word needs to be said about the different view taken in today's dissent. We all agree, of course, on the need for some interpretative help. The First Amendment contains no textual definition of "establishment," and the [875] term is certainly not self-defining. No one contends that the prohibition of establishment stops at a designation of a national (or with Fourteenth Amendment incorporation, Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 303 (1940), a state) church, but nothing in the text says just how much more it covers. There is no simple answer, for more than one reason.

    66

    The prohibition on establishment covers a variety of issues from prayer in widely varying government settings, to financial aid for religious individuals and institutions, to comment on religious questions. In these varied settings, issues of interpreting inexact Establishment Clause language, like difficult interpretative issues generally, arise from the tension of competing values, each constitutionally respectable, but none open to realization to the logical limit.

    67

    The First Amendment has not one but two clauses tied to "religion," the second forbidding any prohibition on "the free exercise thereof," and sometimes, the two clauses compete: spending government money on the clergy looks like establishing religion, but if the government cannot pay for military chaplains a good many soldiers and sailors would be kept from the opportunity to exercise their chosen religions. See Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 719 (2005). At other times, limits on governmental action that might make sense as a way to avoid establishment could arguably limit freedom of speech when the speaking is done under government auspices. Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819 (1995). The dissent, then, is wrong to read cases like Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664 (1970), as a rejection of neutrality on its own terms, post, at 891-892, for tradeoffs are inevitable, and an elegant interpretative rule to draw the line in all the multifarious situations is not to be had.

    68

    Given the variety of interpretative problems, the principle of neutrality has provided a good sense of direction: the government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over irreligion, religious choice being the prerogative of individuals [876] under the Free Exercise Clause. The principle has been helpful simply because it responds to one of the major concerns that prompted adoption of the Religion Clauses. The Framers and the citizens of their time intended not only to protect the integrity of individual conscience in religious matters, Wallace, 472 U. S., at 52-54, and n. 38, but to guard against the civic divisiveness that follows when the government weighs in on one side of religious debate; nothing does a better job of roiling society, a point that needed no explanation to the descendants of English Puritans and Cavaliers (or Massachusetts Puritans and Baptists). E.g., Everson, supra, at 8 ("A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape [religious persecution]"). A sense of the past thus points to governmental neutrality as an objective of the Establishment Clause, and a sensible standard for applying it. To be sure, given its generality as a principle, an appeal to neutrality alone cannot possibly lay every issue to rest, or tell us what issues on the margins are substantial enough for constitutional significance, a point that has been clear from the founding era to modern times. E.g., Letter from J. Madison to R. Adams (1832), in 5 The Founders' Constitution 107 (P. Kurland & R. Lerner eds. 1987) ("[In calling for separation] I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions & doubts on unessential points"); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398, 422 (1963) (Harlan, J., dissenting) ("The constitutional obligation of `neutrality' . . . is not so narrow a channel that the slightest deviation from an absolutely straight course leads to condemnation"). But invoking neutrality is a prudent way of keeping sight of something the Framers of the First Amendment thought important.

    69

    The dissent, however, puts forward a limitation on the application of the neutrality principle, with citations to historical evidence said to show that the Framers understood the [877] ban on establishment of religion as sufficiently narrow to allow the government to espouse submission to the divine will. The dissent identifies God as the God of monotheism, all of whose three principal strains (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) acknowledge the religious importance of the Ten Commandments. Post, at 893-894. On the dissent's view, it apparently follows that even rigorous espousal of a common element of this common monotheism is consistent with the establishment ban.

    70

    But the dissent's argument for the original understanding is flawed from the outset by its failure to consider the full range of evidence showing what the Framers believed. The dissent is certainly correct in putting forward evidence that some of the Framers thought some endorsement of religion was compatible with the establishment ban; the dissent quotes the first President as stating that "[n]ational morality [cannot] prevail in exclusion of religious principle," for example, post, at 887 (internal quotation marks omitted), and it cites his first Thanksgiving proclamation giving thanks to God, post, at 886-887. Surely if expressions like these from Washington and his contemporaries were all we had to go on, there would be a good case that the neutrality principle has the effect of broadening the ban on establishment beyond the Framers' understanding of it (although there would, of course, still be the question of whether the historical case could overcome some 60 years of precedent taking neutrality as its guiding principle).[25]

    71

    [878] But the fact is that we do have more to go on, for there is also evidence supporting the proposition that the Framers intended the Establishment Clause to require governmental neutrality in matters of religion, including neutrality in statements acknowledging religion. The very language of the Establishment Clause represented a significant departure from early drafts that merely prohibited a single national religion, and the final language instead "extended [the] prohibition to state support for `religion' in general." See Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 614-615 (1992) (SOUTER, J., concurring) (tracing development of language).

    72

    The historical record, moreover, is complicated beyond the dissent's account by the writings and practices of figures no less influential than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jefferson, for example, refused to issue Thanksgiving Proclamations because he believed that they violated the Constitution. See Letter to S. Miller (Jan. 23, 1808), in 5 The Founders' Constitution, supra, at 98. And Madison, whom the dissent claims as supporting its thesis, post, at 888, criticized Virginia's general assessment tax not just because it required people to donate "three pence" to religion, but because "it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority." 505 U. S., at 622 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Letter from J. Madison to E. Livingston (July 10, 1822), in 5 The Founders' Constitution, supra, at 106 ("[R]eligion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together"); Letter from J. Madison to J. Adams (Sept. 1833), in Religion and Politics in the Early Republic 120 (D. Dresibach ed. 1996) (stating that with respect to religion and government the "tendency to a usurpation on one side, or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the [879] Government from interference"); Van Orden v. Perry, ante, at 724-725 (Stevens, J., dissenting).[26]

    73

    The fair inference is that there was no common understanding about the limits of the establishment prohibition, and the dissent's conclusion that its narrower view was the original understanding, post, at 886-888, stretches the evidence beyond tensile capacity. What the evidence does show is a group of statesmen, like others before and after them, who proposed a guarantee with contours not wholly worked out, leaving the Establishment Clause with edges still to be determined. And none the worse for that. Indeterminate edges are the kind to have in a constitution meant to endure, and to meet "exigencies which, if foreseen at all, must have been seen dimly, and which can be best provided for as they occur." McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 415 (1819).

    74

    While the dissent fails to show a consistent original understanding from which to argue that the neutrality principle should be rejected, it does manage to deliver a surprise. As mentioned, the dissent says that the deity the Framers had in mind was the God of monotheism, with the consequence that government may espouse a tenet of traditional monotheism. This is truly a remarkable view. Other Members of the Court have dissented on the ground that the Establishment Clause bars nothing more than governmental preference for one religion over another, e.g., Wallace, 472 U. S., at 98-99 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting), but at least religion has previously been treated inclusively. Today's dissent, however, [880] apparently means that government should be free to approve the core beliefs of a favored religion over the tenets of others, a view that should trouble anyone who prizes religious liberty. Certainly history cannot justify it; on the contrary, history shows that the religion of concern to the Framers was not that of the monotheistic faiths generally, but Christianity in particular, a fact that no Member of this Court takes as a premise for construing the Religion Clauses. Justice Story probably reflected the thinking of the framing generation when he wrote in his Commentaries that the purpose of the Clause was "not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects." R. Cord, Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction 13 (1988) (emphasis deleted). The Framers would, therefore, almost certainly object to the dissent's unstated reasoning that because Christianity was a monotheistic "religion," monotheism with Mosaic antecedents should be a touchstone of establishment interpretation.[27] Even on originalist critiques of existing precedent there is, it seems, no escape from interpretative consequences that would surprise the Framers. Thus, it appears to be common ground in the interpretation of a Constitution "intended to endure for ages to come," McCulloch v. [881] Maryland, supra, at 415, that applications unanticipated by the Framers are inevitable.

    75

    Historical evidence thus supports no solid argument for changing course (whatever force the argument might have when directed at the existing precedent), whereas public discourse at the present time certainly raises no doubt about the value of the interpretative approach invoked for 60 years now. We are centuries away from the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and the treatment of heretics in early Massachusetts, but the divisiveness of religion in current public life is inescapable. This is no time to deny the prudence of understanding the Establishment Clause to require the government to stay neutral on religious belief, which is reserved for the conscience of the individual.

    76
    V
    77

    Given the ample support for the District Court's finding of a predominantly religious purpose behind the Counties' third display, we affirm the Sixth Circuit in upholding the preliminary injunction.

    78

    It is so ordered.

    79
    JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.
    80

    I join in the Court's opinion. The First Amendment expresses our Nation's fundamental commitment to religious liberty by means of two provisions—one protecting the free exercise of religion, the other barring establishment of religion. They were written by the descendents of people who had come to this land precisely so that they could practice their religion freely. Together with the other First Amendment guarantees—of free speech, a free press, and the rights to assemble and petition—the Religion Clauses were designed to safeguard the freedom of conscience and belief that those immigrants had sought. They embody an idea that was once considered radical: Free people are entitled to free [882] and diverse thoughts, which government ought neither to constrain nor to direct.

    81

    Reasonable minds can disagree about how to apply the Religion Clauses in a given case. But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders' plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. The well-known statement that "[w]e are a religious people," Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313 (1952), has proved true. Americans attend their places of worship more often than do citizens of other developed nations, R. Fowler, A. Hertzke, & L. Olson, Religion and Politics in America 28-29 (2d ed. 1999), and describe religion as playing an especially important role in their lives, Pew Global Attitudes Project, Among Wealthy Nations . . . U. S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion (Dec. 19, 2002). Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

    82

    Our guiding principle has been James Madison's—that "[t]he Religion ... of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man." Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 2 Writings of James Madison 183, 184 (G. Hunt ed. 1901) (hereinafter Memorial). To that end, we have held that the guarantees of religious freedom protect citizens from religious incursions by the States as well as by the Federal Government. Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 16 (1947); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296 (1940). Government may not coerce a person [883] into worshiping against her will, nor prohibit her from worshiping according to it. It may not prefer one religion over another or promote religion over nonbelief. Everson, supra, at 15-16. It may not entangle itself with religion. Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664, 674 (1970). And government may not, by "endorsing religion or a religious practice," "mak[e] adherence to religion relevant to a person's standing in the political community." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 69 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment).

    83

    When we enforce these restrictions, we do so for the same reason that guided the Framers—respect for religion's special role in society. Our Founders conceived of a Republic receptive to voluntary religious expression, and provided for the possibility of judicial intervention when government action threatens or impedes such expression. Voluntary religious belief and expression may be as threatened when government takes the mantle of religion upon itself as when government directly interferes with private religious practices. When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual's decision about whether and how to worship. In the marketplace of ideas, the government has vast resources and special status. Government religious expression therefore risks crowding out private observance and distorting the natural interplay between competing beliefs. Allowing government to be a potential mouthpiece for competing religious ideas risks the sort of division that might easily spill over into suppression of rival beliefs. Tying secular and religious authority together poses risks to both.

    84

    Given the history of this particular display of the Ten Commandments, the Court correctly finds an Establishment Clause violation. See ante, at 867-873. The purpose behind the counties' display is relevant because it conveys an unmistakable message of endorsement to the reasonable observer. [884] See Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 690 (1984) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

    85

    It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment. See West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 638 (1943) ("The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts"). Nor can we accept the theory that Americans who do not accept the Commandments' validity are outside the First Amendment's protections. There is no list of approved and disapproved beliefs appended to the First Amendment—and the Amendment's broad terms ("free exercise," "establishment," "religion") do not admit of such a cramped reading. It is true that the Framers lived at a time when our national religious diversity was neither as robust nor as well recognized as it is now. They may not have foreseen the variety of religions for which this Nation would eventually provide a home. They surely could not have predicted new religions, some of them born in this country. But they did know that line-drawing between religions is an enterprise that, once begun, has no logical stopping point. They worried that "the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects." Memorial 186. The Religion Clauses, as a result, protect adherents of all religions, as well as those who believe in no religion at all.

    86
    * * *
    87

    We owe our First Amendment to a generation with a profound commitment to religion and a profound commitment to religious liberty—visionaries who held their faith "with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered [885] to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar." Zorach, 343 U. S., at 324-325 (Jackson, J., dissenting). In my opinion, the display at issue was an establishment of religion in violation of our Constitution. For the reasons given above, I join in the Court's opinion.

    88
    JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE THOMAS join, and with whom JUSTICE KENNEDY joins as to Parts II and III, dissenting.
    89

    I would uphold McCreary County and Pulaski County, Kentucky's (hereinafter Counties) displays of the Ten Commandments. I shall discuss, first, why the Court's oft repeated assertion that the government cannot favor religious practice is false; second, why today's opinion extends the scope of that falsehood even beyond prior cases; and third, why even on the basis of the Court's false assumptions the judgment here is wrong.

    90
    I
    91
    A
    92

    On September 11, 2001, I was attending in Rome, Italy, an international conference of judges and lawyers, principally from Europe and the United States. That night and the next morning virtually all of the participants watched, in their hotel rooms, the address to the Nation by the President of the United States concerning the murderous attacks upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, in which thousands of Americans had been killed. The address ended, as Presidential addresses often do, with the prayer "God bless America." The next afternoon I was approached by one of the judges from a European country, who, after extending his profound condolences for my country's loss, sadly observed: "How I wish that the Head of State of my country, at a similar time of national tragedy and distress, could conclude his address `God bless ____.' It is of course absolutely forbidden."

    93

    [886] That is one model of the relationship between church and state—a model spread across Europe by the armies of Napoleon, and reflected in the Constitution of France, which begins, "France is [a] . . . secular . . . Republic." France Const., Art. 1, in 7 Constitutions of the Countries of the World, p. 1 (G. Flanz ed. 2000). Religion is to be strictly excluded from the public forum. This is not, and never was, the model adopted by America. George Washington added to the form of Presidential oath prescribed by Art. II, § 1, cl. 8, of the Constitution, the concluding words "so help me God." See Blomquist, The Presidential Oath, the American National Interest and a Call for Presiprudence, 73 UMKC L. Rev. 1, 34 (2004). The Supreme Court under John Marshall opened its sessions with the prayer, "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." 1 C. Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History 469 (rev. ed. 1926) (internal quotation marks omitted). The First Congress instituted the practice of beginning its legislative sessions with a prayer. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, 787-788 (1983). The same week that Congress submitted the Establishment Clause as part of the Bill of Rights for ratification by the States, it enacted legislation providing for paid chaplains in the House and Senate. Id., at 788. The day after the First Amendment was proposed, the same Congress that had proposed it requested the President to proclaim "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed, by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favours of Almighty God." H. R. Jour., 1st Cong., 1st Sess., 123 (1826 ed.); see also Sen. Jour., 1st Sess., 88 (1820 ed.). President Washington offered the first Thanksgiving Proclamation shortly thereafter, devoting November 26, 1789, on behalf of the American people "`to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be,'" Van Orden v. Perry, ante, at 687 (plurality opinion) (quoting President Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation), thus beginning a tradition of offering gratitude to [887] God that continues today. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 100-103 (1985) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).[28] The same Congress also reenacted the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, 1 Stat. 50, Article III of which provided: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Id., at 52, n. (a). And of course the First Amendment itself accords religion (and no other manner of belief) special constitutional protection.

    94

    These actions of our First President and Congress and the Marshall Court were not idiosyncratic; they reflected the beliefs of the period. Those who wrote the Constitution believed that morality was essential to the well-being of society and that encouragement of religion was the best way to foster morality. The "fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself." School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 213 (1963). See Underkuffler-Freund, The Separation of the Religious and the Secular: A Foundational Challenge to First-Amendment Theory, 36 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 837, 896-918 (1995). President Washington opened his Presidency with a prayer, see Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States 1, 2 (1989), and reminded his fellow citizens at the conclusion of it that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle," Farewell Address (1796), reprinted in 35 Writings of George Washington 229 (J. Fitzpatrick ed. 1940). President John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts Militia, "we have no government [888] armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Letter (Oct. 11, 1798), reprinted in 9 Works of John Adams 229 (C. Adams ed. 1971). Thomas Jefferson concluded his second inaugural address by inviting his audience to pray:

    95
    "I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations." Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States, at 18, 22-23.
    96

    James Madison, in his first inaugural address, likewise placed his confidence "in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future." Id., at 25, 28.

    97

    Nor have the views of our people on this matter significantly changed. Presidents continue to conclude the Presidential oath with the words "so help me God." Our legislatures, state and national, continue to open their sessions with prayer led by official chaplains. The sessions of this Court continue to open with the prayer "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." Invocation of the Almighty by our public figures, at all levels of government, [889] remains commonplace. Our coinage bears the motto, "IN GOD WE TRUST." And our Pledge of Allegiance contains the acknowledgment that we are a Nation "under God." As one of our Supreme Court opinions rightly observed, "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313 (1952), repeated with approval in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 675 (1984); Marsh, 463 U. S., at 792; Abington Township, supra, at 213.

    98

    With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that the "`First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between . . . religion and nonreligion,'" ante, at 860, and that "[m]anifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally," ibid., is unconstitutional? Who says so? Surely not the words of the Constitution. Surely not the history and traditions that reflect our society's constant understanding of those words. Surely not even the current sense of our society, recently reflected in an Act of Congress adopted unanimously by the Senate and with only five nays in the House of Representatives, see 148 Cong. Rec. 12041 (June 28, 2002); id., at 19518 (Oct. 8, 2002), criticizing a Court of Appeals opinion that had held "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. See Act of Nov. 13, 2002, §§ 1(9), 2(a), 3(a), 116 Stat. 2057, 2058, 2060-2061 (reaffirming the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto ("In God We Trust") and stating that the Pledge of Allegiance is "clearly consistent with the text and intent of the Constitution"). Nothing stands behind the Court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the Court's own say-so, citing as support only the unsubstantiated say-so of earlier Courts going back no further than the mid-20th century. See ante, at 860, citing Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327, 335 (1987), in turn citing Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612 (1971), in [890] turn citing Board of Ed. of Central School Dist. No. 1 v. Allen, 392 U. S. 236, 243 (1968), in turn quoting Abington Township, 374 U. S., at 222, in turn citing Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 15 (1947).[29] And it is, moreover, a thoroughly discredited say-so. It is discredited, to begin with, because a majority of the Justices on the current Court (including at least one Member of today's majority) have, in separate opinions, repudiated the brain-spun "Lemon test" that embodies the supposed principle of neutrality between religion and irreligion. See Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U. S. 384, 398-399 (1993) (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment) (collecting criticism of Lemon); Van Orden, ante, at 692-693, 697 (THOMAS, J., concurring); Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U. S. 687, 720 (1994) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 655-656, 672-673 (1989) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 112 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); see also Committee for Public Ed. and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 671 (1980) (STEVENS, J., dissenting) (disparaging "the sisyphean task of trying to patch together the `blurred, indistinct, and variable barrier' described in Lemon"). And it is discredited because the Court has not had the courage (or the foolhardiness) to apply the neutrality principle consistently.

    99

    What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable [891] requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now that—thumbs up or thumbs down—as their personal preferences dictate. Today's opinion forthrightly (or actually, somewhat less than forthrightly) admits that it does not rest upon consistently applied principle. In a revealing footnote, ante, at 859-860, n. 10, the Court acknowledges that the "Establishment Clause doctrine" it purports to be applying "lacks the comfort of categorical absolutes." What the Court means by this lovely euphemism is that sometimes the Court chooses to decide cases on the principle that government cannot favor religion, and sometimes it does not. The footnote goes on to say that "[i]n special instances we have found good reason" to dispense with the principle, but "[n]o such reasons present themselves here." Ibid. It does not identify all of those "special instances," much less identify the "good reason" for their existence.

    100

    I have cataloged elsewhere the variety of circumstances in which this Court—even after its embrace of Lemon's stated prohibition of such behavior—has approved government action "undertaken with the specific intention of improving the position of religion," Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 616 (1987) (Scalia, J., dissenting). See id., at 616-618. Suffice it to say here that when the government relieves churches from the obligation to pay property taxes, when it allows students to absent themselves from public school to take religious classes, and when it exempts religious organizations from generally applicable prohibitions of religious discrimination, it surely means to bestow a benefit on religious practice—but we have approved it. See Amos, supra, at 338 (exemption from federal prohibition of religious discrimination by employers); Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664, 673 (1970) (property tax exemption for church property); Zorach, supra, at 308, 315 (law permitting students to leave public school for the purpose of [892] receiving religious education). Indeed, we have even approved (post-Lemon) government-led prayer to God. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Court upheld the Nebraska State Legislature's practice of paying a chaplain to lead it in prayer at the opening of legislative sessions. The Court explained that "[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not ... an `establishment' of religion or a step toward establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country." 463 U. S., at 792. (Why, one wonders, is not respect for the Ten Commandments a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country?)

    101

    The only "good reason" for ignoring the neutrality principle set forth in any of these cases was the antiquity of the practice at issue. See id., at 786-792, 794; Walz, supra, at 676-680. That would be a good reason for finding the neutrality principle a mistaken interpretation of the Constitution, but it is hardly a good reason for letting an unconstitutional practice continue. We did not hide behind that reason in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533 (1964), which found unconstitutional bicameral state legislatures of a sort that had existed since the beginning of the Republic. And almost monthly, it seems, the Court has not shrunk from invalidating aspects of criminal procedure and penology of similar vintage. See, e.g., Deck v. Missouri, 544 U. S. 622, 633 (2005) (invalidating practice of shackling defendants absent "special circumstances"); id., at 641-645 (Thomas, J., dissenting); Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 568 (2005) (invalidating practice of executing under-18-year-old offenders); id., at 611, n. 2 (Scalia, J., dissenting). What, then, could be the genuine "good reason" for occasionally ignoring the neutrality principle? I suggest it is the instinct for self-preservation, and the recognition that the Court, which "has no influence over either the sword or the purse," The Federalist No. 78, p. 412 (J. Pole ed. 2005) (A. Hamilton), cannot go [893] too far down the road of an enforced neutrality that contradicts both historical fact and current practice without losing all that sustains it: the willingness of the people to accept its interpretation of the Constitution as definitive, in preference to the contrary interpretation of the democratically elected branches.

    102

    Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principle that the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today's opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another. See ante, at 868; see also Van Orden, ante, at 717-718 (Stevens, J., dissenting). That is indeed a valid principle where public aid or assistance to religion is concerned, see Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639, 652 (2002), or where the free exercise of religion is at issue, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520, 532-533 (1993); id., at 557-558 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment), but it necessarily applies in a more limited sense to public acknowledgment of the Creator. If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word "God," or "the Almighty," one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational—but it was monotheistic.[30] In Marsh v. [894] Chambers, supra, we said that the fact the particular prayers offered in the Nebraska Legislature were "in the Judeo-Christian tradition," id., at 793, posed no additional problem, because "there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief," id., at 794-795.

    103

    Historical practices thus demonstrate that there is a distance between the acknowledgment of a single Creator and the establishment of a religion. The former is, as Marsh v. Chambers put it, "a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country." Id., at 792. The three most popular religions in the United States, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—which combined account for 97.7% of all believers—are monotheistic. See U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005, p. 55 (124th ed. 2004) (Table No. 67). All of them, moreover (Islam included), believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses, and are divine prescriptions for a virtuous life. See 13 Encyclopedia of Religion 9074 (2d ed. 2005); The Qur'an 104 (M. Haleem transl. 2004). Publicly honoring the Ten Commandments is thus indistinguishable, insofar as discriminating against other religions is concerned, from publicly honoring God. Both practices are recognized across such a broad and diverse range of the population—from Christians to Muslims—that they cannot be reasonably understood as a government endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint.[31]

    104
    [895] B
    105

    A few remarks are necessary in response to the criticism of this dissent by the Court, as well as JUSTICE STEVENS' criticism in the related case of Van Orden v. Perry, ante, p. 707. JUSTICE STEVENS' writing is largely devoted to an attack upon a straw man. "[R]eliance on early religious proclamations and statements made by the Founders is ... problematic," he says, "because those views were not espoused at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 nor enshrined in the Constitution's text." Van Orden, ante, at 724 (dissenting opinion) (footnote omitted). But I have not relied upon (as he and the Court in this case do) mere "proclamations and statements" of the Founders. I have relied primarily upon official acts and official proclamations of the United States or of the component branches of its Government, including the First Congress's beginning of the tradition of legislative prayer to God, its appointment of congressional chaplains, its legislative proposal of a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and its reenactment of the Northwest Territory Ordinance; our first President's issuance of a Thanksgiving Proclamation; and invocation of God at the opening of sessions of the Supreme Court. The only mere "proclamations and statements" of the Founders I have relied upon were statements of Founders who occupied federal office, and spoke in at least a quasi-official capacity—Washington's prayer at the opening of his Presidency and his Farewell Address, President John Adams' letter to the Massachusetts Militia, and Jefferson's and Madison's inaugural addresses. The Court and JUSTICE STEVENS, by contrast, appeal to no official or even quasi-official action in support of their view of the Establishment Clause—only James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, written before the Federal Constitution had even been proposed, [896] two letters written by Madison long after he was President, and the quasi-official inaction of Thomas Jefferson in refusing to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation. See ante, at 878-879; Van Orden, ante, at 724-725 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The Madison Memorial and Remonstrance, dealing as it does with enforced contribution to religion rather than public acknowledgment of God, is irrelevant; one of the letters is utterly ambiguous as to the point at issue here, and should not be read to contradict Madison's statements in his first inaugural address, quoted earlier; even the other letter does not disapprove public acknowledgment of God, unless one posits (what Madison's own actions as President would contradict) that reference to God contradicts "the equality of all religious sects." See Letter from James Madison to Edward Livingston (July 10, 1822), in 5 The Founders' Constitution 105-106 (P. Kurland & R. Lerner eds. 1987). And as to Jefferson: The notoriously self-contradicting Jefferson did not choose to have his nonauthorship of a Thanksgiving Proclamation inscribed on his tombstone. What he did have inscribed was his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a governmental act which begins "Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free. . . ." Va. Code Ann. § 57-1 (Lexis 2003).

    106

    It is no answer for JUSTICE STEVENS to say that the understanding that these official and quasi-official actions reflect was not "enshrined in the Constitution's text." Van Orden, ante, at 724 (dissenting opinion). The Establishment Clause, upon which JUSTICE STEVENS would rely, was enshrined in the Constitution's text, and these official actions show what it meant. There were doubtless some who thought it should have a broader meaning, but those views were plainly rejected. JUSTICE STEVENS says that reliance on these actions is "bound to paint a misleading picture," ibid., but it is hard to see why. What is more probative of the meaning of the Establishment Clause than the actions of [897] the very Congress that proposed it, and of the first President charged with observing it?

    107

    JUSTICE STEVENS also appeals to the undoubted fact that some in the founding generation thought that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment should have a narrower meaning, protecting only the Christian religion or perhaps only Protestantism. See Van Orden, ante, at 725-728. I am at a loss to see how this helps his case, except by providing a cloud of obfuscating smoke. (Since most thought the Clause permitted government invocation of monotheism, and some others thought it permitted government invocation of Christianity, he proposes that it be construed not to permit any government invocation of religion at all.) At any rate, those narrower views of the Establishment Clause were as clearly rejected as the more expansive ones. Washington's First Thanksgiving Proclamation is merely an example. All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history,[32] and all the other examples of our Government's favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.[33] Rather than relying [898] upon JUSTICE STEVENS' assurance that "[t]he original understanding of the type of `religion' that qualified for constitutional protection under the Establishment Clause likely did not include ... followers of Judaism and Islam," Van Orden, ante, at 728; see also ante, at 880, I would prefer to take the word of George Washington, who, in his famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote:

    108
    "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights." 6 The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series 285 (D. Twohig ed. 1996).
    109

    The letter concluded, by the way, with an invocation of the one God:

    110
    "May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy." Ibid.
    111

    JUSTICE STEVENS says that if one is serious about following the original understanding of the Establishment Clause, he must repudiate its incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment, and hold that it does not apply against the States. See Van Orden, ante, at 729-731 (dissenting opinion). This is more smoke. JUSTICE STEVENS did not feel that way last Term, when he joined an opinion insisting upon the original meaning of the Confrontation Clause, but nonetheless applying it against the State of Washington. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36 (2004). The notion that incorporation empties the incorporated provisions of their original meaning has no support in either reason or precedent.

    112

    [899] JUSTICE STEVENS argues that original meaning should not be the touchstone anyway, but that we should rather "expoun[d] the meaning of constitutional provisions with one eye toward our Nation's history and the other fixed on its democratic aspirations." Van Orden, ante, at 732 (dissenting opinion). This is not the place to debate the merits of the "living Constitution," though I must observe that Justice Stevens' quotation from McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 407 (1819), refutes rather than supports that approach.[34] Even assuming, however, that the meaning of the Constitution ought to change according to "democratic aspirations," why are those aspirations to be found in Justices' notions of what the Establishment Clause ought to mean, rather than in the democratically adopted dispositions of our current society? As I have observed above, numerous provisions of our laws and numerous continuing practices of our people demonstrate that the government's invocation of God (and hence the government's invocation of the Ten Commandments) is unobjectionable—including a statute enacted by Congress almost unanimously less than three years ago, stating that "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional, see 116 Stat. 2058. To ignore all this is not to give effect to "democratic aspirations" but to frustrate them.

    113

    Finally, I must respond to JUSTICE STEVENS' assertion that I would "marginaliz[e] the belief systems of more than 7 million Americans" who adhere to religions that are not monotheistic. Van Orden, ante, at 719, n. 18 (dissenting opinion). Surely that is a gross exaggeration. The beliefs of those citizens are entirely protected by the Free Exercise Clause, and by those aspects of the Establishment Clause that do not relate to government acknowledgment of the Creator. Invocation of God despite their beliefs is permitted not because nonmonotheistic religions cease to be religions recognized by the Religion Clauses of the First [900] Amendment, but because governmental invocation of God is not an establishment. JUSTICE STEVENS fails to recognize that in the context of public acknowledgments of God there are legitimate competing interests: On the one hand, the interest of that minority in not feeling "excluded"; but on the other, the interest of the overwhelming majority of religious believers in being able to give God thanks and supplication as a people, and with respect to our national endeavors. Our national tradition has resolved that conflict in favor of the majority.[35] It is not for this Court to change a disposition that accounts, many Americans think, for the phenomenon remarked upon in a quotation attributed to various authors, including Bismarck, but which I prefer to associate with Charles de Gaulle: "God watches over little children, drunkards, and the United States of America."

    114
    II
    115

    As bad as the Lemon test is, it is worse for the fact that, since its inception, its seemingly simple mandates have been manipulated to fit whatever result the Court aimed to achieve. Today's opinion is no different. In two respects it modifies Lemon to ratchet up the Court's hostility to religion. First, the Court justifies inquiry into legislative purpose, not as an end itself, but as a means to ascertain the appearance of the government action to an "`objective observer.'" Ante, at 862. Because in the Court's view the true danger to be guarded against is that the objective observer would feel like an "`outside[r]'" or "`not [a] full membe[r] of the political community,'" its inquiry focuses not on [901] the actual purpose of government action, but the "purpose apparent from government action." Ante, at 860. Under this approach, even if a government could show that its actual purpose was not to advance religion, it would presumably violate the Constitution as long as the Court's objective observer would think otherwise. See Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U. S. 753, 776-777 (1995) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (stating that "when the reasonable observer would view a government practice as endorsing religion, . . . it is our duty to hold the practice invalid," even if the law at issue was neutral and the benefit conferred on the religious entity was incidental).

    116

    I have remarked before that it is an odd jurisprudence that bases the unconstitutionality of a government practice that does not actually advance religion on the hopes of the government that it would do so. See Edwards, 482 U. S., at 639. But that oddity pales in comparison to the one invited by today's analysis: the legitimacy of a government action with a wholly secular effect would turn on the misperception of an imaginary observer that the government officials behind the action had the intent to advance religion.

    117

    Second, the Court replaces Lemon's requirement that the government have "a secular . . . purpose," 403 U. S., at 612 (emphasis added), with the heightened requirement that the secular purpose "predominate" over any purpose to advance religion. Ante, at 864-865. The Court treats this extension as a natural outgrowth of the longstanding requirement that the government's secular purpose not be a sham, but simple logic shows the two to be unrelated. If the government's proffered secular purpose is not genuine, then the government has no secular purpose at all. The new demand that secular purpose predominate contradicts Lemon's more limited requirement, and finds no support in our cases. In all but one of the five cases in which this Court has invalidated a government practice on the basis of its purpose to [902] benefit religion, it has first declared that the statute was motivated entirely by the desire to advance religion. See Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 308-309 (2000) (dismissing the school district's proffered secular purposes as shams); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 56 (finding "no secular purpose" (emphasis in original)); Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41 (1980) (per curiam) (finding that "Kentucky's statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school rooms has no secular legislative purpose" (emphasis added)); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 107-109 (1968). In Edwards, supra, the Court did say that the state action was invalid because its "primary" or "preeminent" purpose was to advance a particular religious belief, 482 U. S., at 590, 593, 594, but that statement was unnecessary to the result, since the Court rejected the State's only proffered secular purpose as a sham. See id., at 589.

    118

    I have urged that Lemon's purpose prong be abandoned, because (as I have discussed in Part I) even an exclusive purpose to foster or assist religious practice is not necessarily invalidating. But today's extension makes things even worse. By shifting the focus of Lemon's purpose prong from the search for a genuine, secular motivation to the hunt for a predominantly religious purpose, the Court converts what has in the past been a fairly limited inquiry into a rigorous review of the full record.[36] Those responsible for the [903] adoption of the Religion Clauses would surely regard it as a bitter irony that the religious values they designed those Clauses to protect have now become so distasteful to this Court that if they constitute anything more than a subordinate motive for government action they will invalidate it.

    119
    III
    120

    Even accepting the Court's Lemon-based premises, the displays at issue here were constitutional.

    121
    A
    122

    To any person who happened to walk down the hallway of the McCreary or Pulaski County Courthouse during the roughly nine months when the Foundations Displays were exhibited, the displays must have seemed unremarkable—if indeed they were noticed at all. The walls of both court-houses were already lined with historical documents and other assorted portraits; each Foundations Display was exhibited in the same format as these other displays and nothing in the record suggests that either County took steps to give it greater prominence.

    123

    Entitled "The Foundations of American Law and Government Display," each display consisted of nine equally sized documents: the original version of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Star Spangled Banner, the Mayflower Compact of 1620, a picture of Lady Justice, the National Motto of the United States ("In God We Trust"), the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, and the Ten Commandments. The displays did not emphasize any of the nine documents in any way: The frame holding the Ten Commandments was of the same size and had the [904] same appearance as that which held each of the other documents. See 354 F. 3d 438, 443 (CA6 2003).

    124

    Posted with the documents was a plaque, identifying the display, and explaining that it "`contains documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.'" Ibid. The explanation related to the Ten Commandments was third in the list of nine and did not serve to distinguish it from the other documents. It stated:

    125
    "`The Ten Commandments have profoundly influenced the formation of Western legal thought and the formation of our country. That influence is clearly seen in the Declaration of Independence, which declared that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The Ten Commandments provide the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.'" Ibid.
    126
    B
    127

    On its face, the Foundations Displays manifested the purely secular purpose that the Counties asserted before the District Court: "to display documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government." Affidavit of Judge Jimmie Green in Support of Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Contempt or, in the Alternative, for Supplemental Preliminary Injunction in Civ. Action No. 99-507 (ED Ky.), p. 2, ¶ 4, App. 57. That the displays included the Ten Commandments did not transform their apparent secular purpose into one of impermissible advocacy for Judeo-Christian beliefs. Even an isolated display of the Decalogue conveys, at worst, "an equivocal message, perhaps of respect for Judaism, for religion in general, or for law." Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 652 (STEVENS, J., [905] concurring in part and dissenting in part). But when the Ten Commandments appear alongside other documents of secular significance in a display devoted to the foundations of American law and government, the context communicates that the Ten Commandments are included, not to teach their binding nature as a religious text, but to show their unique contribution to the development of the legal system. See id., at 652-653. This is doubly true when the display is introduced by a document that informs passersby that it "`contains documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.'" 354 F. 3d, at 443.

    128

    The same result follows if the Ten Commandments display is viewed in light of the government practices that this Court has countenanced in the past. The acknowledgment of the contribution that religion in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular, have made to our Nation's legal and governmental heritage is surely no more of a step toward establishment of religion than was the practice of legislative prayer we approved in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), and it seems to be on par with the inclusion of a crèche or a menorah in a "Holiday" display that incorporates other secular symbols, see Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 679-680; Allegheny County, supra, at 621 (Blackmun, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). The parallels between this case and Marsh and Lynch are sufficiently compelling that they ought to decide this case, even under the Court's misguided Establishment Clause jurisprudence.[37]

    129

    [906] Acknowledgment of the contribution that religion has made to our Nation's legal and governmental heritage partakes of a centuries-old tradition. Members of this Court have themselves often detailed the degree to which religious belief pervaded the National Government during the founding era. See Lynch, supra, at 674-678; Marsh, supra, at 786-788; Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 633-636 (1992) (SCALIA, J., dissenting); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 100-106 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 446-450, and n. 3 (1962) (Stewart, J., dissenting). Display of the Ten Commandments is well within the mainstream of this practice of acknowledgment. Federal, state, and local governments across the Nation have engaged in such display.[38] The Supreme Court Building itself includes depictions of Moses with the Ten Commandments in the Courtroom and on the east pediment of the building, and symbols of the Ten Commandments "adorn the metal gates lining the north and south sides of the Courtroom as well as the doors leading into the Courtroom." Van Orden, ante, at 688 (plurality opinion). Similar depictions of the Decalogue appear [907] on public buildings and monuments throughout our Nation's Capital. Ante, at 689. The frequency of these displays testifies to the popular understanding that the Ten Commandments are a foundation of the rule of law, and a symbol of the role that religion played, and continues to play, in our system of government.

    130

    Perhaps in recognition of the centrality of the Ten Commandments as a widely recognized symbol of religion in public life, the Court is at pains to dispel the impression that its decision will require governments across the country to sandblast the Ten Commandments from the public square. See ante, at 874. The constitutional problem, the Court says, is with the Counties' purpose in erecting the Foundations Displays, not the displays themselves. The Court adds in a footnote: "One consequence of taking account of the purpose underlying past actions is that the same government action may be constitutional if taken in the first instance and unconstitutional if it has a sectarian heritage." Ante, at 866, n. 14.

    131

    This inconsistency may be explicable in theory, but I suspect that the "objective observer" with whom the Court is so concerned will recognize its absurdity in practice. By virtue of details familiar only to the parties to litigation and their lawyers, McCreary and Pulaski Counties, Kentucky, and Rutherford County, Tennessee, have been ordered to remove the same display that appears in courthouses from Mercer County, Kentucky, to Elkhart County, Indiana. Compare American Civil Liberties Union of Tenn. v. Rutherford County, 209 F. Supp. 2d 799, 808-809 (MD Tenn. 2002) (holding Foundations Display to be unconstitutional based on prior actions of county commission), with Books v. Elkhart County, 401 F. 3d 857, 869 (CA7 2005) (sustaining Foundations Display as "secular . . . in its purpose and effect"); American Civil Liberties Union of Ky. v. Mercer County, 219 F. Supp. 2d 777, 787-789 (ED Ky. 2002) (rejecting Establishment Clause challenge to an identical Foundations Display and distinguishing McCreary County on the ground [908] that the County's purpose had not been "tainted with any prior history"). Displays erected in silence (and under the direction of good legal advice) are permissible, while those hung after discussion and debate are deemed unconstitutional. Reduction of the Establishment Clause to such minutiae trivializes the Clause's protection against religious establishment; indeed, it may inflame religious passions by making the passing comments of every government official the subject of endless litigation.

    132
    C
    133

    In any event, the Court's conclusion that the Counties exhibited the Foundations Displays with the purpose of promoting religion is doubtful. In the Court's view, the impermissible motive was apparent from the initial displays of the Ten Commandments all by themselves: When that occurs, the Court says, "a religious object is unmistakable." Ante, at 869. Surely that cannot be. If, as discussed above, the Commandments have a proper place in our civic history, even placing them by themselves can be civically motivated—especially when they are placed, not in a school (as they were in the Stone case upon which the Court places such reliance), but in a courthouse. Cf. Van Orden, ante, at 701 (BREYER, J., concurring in judgment) ("The circumstances surrounding the display's placement on the capitol grounds and its physical setting suggest that the State itself intended the . . . nonreligious aspects of the tablets' message to predominate"). And the fact that at the posting of the exhibit a clergyman was present is unremarkable (clergymen taking particular pride in the role of the Ten Commandments in our civic history); and even more unremarkable the fact that the clergyman "testified to the certainty of the existence of God," ante, at 869.

    134

    The Court has in the past prohibited government actions that "proselytize or advance any one, or . . . disparage any other, faith or belief," Marsh, 463 U. S., at 794-795, or that apply some level of coercion (though I and others have disagreed [909] about the form that coercion must take), see, e.g., Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S., at 592 (prayer at high-school graduation invalid because of "subtle coercive pressure"); id., at 642 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). The passive display of the Ten Commandments, even standing alone, does not begin to do either. What JUSTICE KENNEDY said of the crèche in Allegheny County is equally true of the Counties' original Ten Commandments displays:

    135
    "No one was compelled to observe or participate in any religious ceremony or activity. [T]he count[ies] [did not] contribut[e] significant amounts of tax money to serve the cause of one religious faith. [The Ten Commandments] are purely passive symbols of [the religious foundation for many of our laws and governmental institutions]. Passersby who disagree with the message conveyed by th[e] displays are free to ignore them, or even to turn their backs, just as they are free to do when they disagree with any other form of government speech." 492 U. S., at 664 (opinion concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part).
    136

    Nor is it the case that a solo display of the Ten Commandments advances any one faith. They are assuredly a religious symbol, but they are not so closely associated with a single religious belief that their display can reasonably be understood as preferring one religious sect over another. The Ten Commandments are recognized by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike as divinely given. See 13 Encyclopedia of Religion 9074 (2d ed. 2005).[39]

    137

    [910] The Court also points to the Counties' second displays, which featured a number of statements in historical documents reflecting a religious influence, and the resolutions that accompanied their erection, as evidence of an impermissible religious purpose.[40] In the Court's view, "[t]he [second] display's unstinting focus . . . on religious passages, show[s] that the Counties were posting the Commandments precisely because of their sectarian content." Ante, at 870. No, all it necessarily shows is that the exhibit was meant to focus upon the historic role of religious belief in our national life— which is entirely permissible. And the same can be said of the resolution. To forbid any government focus upon this aspect of our history is to display what Justice Goldberg called "untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality," Abington Township, 374 U. S., at 306 (concurring opinion), that would commit the Court (and the Nation) to a revisionist agenda of secularization.

    138

    [911] Turning at last to the displays actually at issue in this case, the Court faults the Counties for not repealing the resolution expressing what the Court believes to be an impermissible intent. Under these circumstances, the Court says, "[n]o reasonable observer could swallow the claim that the Counties had cast off the objective so unmistakable in the earlier displays." Ante, at 872. Even were I to accept all that the Court has said before, I would not agree with that assessment. To begin with, of course, it is unlikely that a reasonable observer would even have been aware of the resolutions, so there would be nothing to "cast off." The Court implies that the Counties may have been able to remedy the "taint" from the old resolutions by enacting a new one. See ante, at 871-872. But that action would have been wholly unnecessary in light of the explanation that the Counties included with the displays themselves: A plaque next to the documents informed all who passed by that each display "contains documents that played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government." Additionally, there was no reason for the Counties to repeal or repudiate the resolutions adopted with the hanging of the second displays, since they related only to the second displays. After complying with the District Court's order to remove the second displays "immediately," and erecting new displays that in content and by express assertion reflected a different purpose from that identified in the resolutions, the Counties had no reason to believe that their previous resolutions would be deemed to be the basis for their actions.[41] After the Counties [912] discovered that the sentiments expressed in the resolutions could be attributed to their most recent displays (in oral argument before this Court), they repudiated them immediately.

    139

    In sum: The first displays did not necessarily evidence an intent to further religious practice; nor did the second displays, or the resolutions authorizing them; and there is in any event no basis for attributing whatever intent motivated the first and second displays to the third. Given the presumption of regularity that always accompanies our review of official action, see n. 9, supra, the Court has identified no evidence of a purpose to advance religion in a way that is inconsistent with our cases. The Court may well be correct in identifying the third displays as the fruit of a desire to display the Ten Commandments, ante, at 872, but neither our cases nor our history support its assertion that such a desire renders the fruit poisonous.

    140
    * * *
    141

    For the foregoing reasons, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

    142

    -----------

    143

    [1] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Alabama et al. by Troy King, Attorney General of Alabama, Kevin C. Newsom, Solicitor General, and Charles B. Campbell, Assistant Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Charles J. Crist, Jr., of Florida, Lawrence G. Wasden of Idaho, Steve Carter of Indiana, Phill Kline of Kansas, Gregory D. Stumbo of Kentucky, Charles C. Foti, Jr., of Louisiana, Jim Hood of Mississippi, Jim Petro of Ohio, Gerald J. Pappert of Pennsylvania, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, Greg Abbott of Texas, Mark L. Shurtleff of Utah, Jerry W. Kilgore of Virginia, and Patrick J. Crank of Wyoming; for the State of Minnesota et al. by Mike Hatch, Attorney General of Minnesota, and John S. Garry, Assistant Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Thomas J. Miller of Iowa, Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon of Missouri, Patricia A. Madrid of New Mexico, W. A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, and Peggy A. Lautenschlager of Wisconsin; for the American Center for Law and Justice by Jay Alan Sekulow, Stuart J. Roth, Francis J. Manion, and Walter M. Weber; for the American Legion by Kelly Shackelford and Philip B. Onderdonk, Jr.; for the American Liberties Institute et al. by Frederick H. Nelson; for the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs et al. by Steven C. Seeger; for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty by Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.; for the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund et al. by Herbert W. Titus and William J. Olson; for the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund by Douglas G. Smith and Phyllis Schlafly; for Faith and Action et al. by Bernard P. Reese, Jr.; for the Family Research Council, Inc., et al. by Robert P. George; for the Foundation for Moral Law, Inc., by Benjamin D. DuPré and Gregory M. Jones; for Judicial Watch, Inc., by Paul J. Orfanedes and Meredith L. Cavallo; for the Pacific Justice Institute by Peter D. Lepiscopo; for the Rutherford Institute by John W. Whitehead; for the Thomas More Law Center by Edward L. White III; and for Wallbuilders, Inc., by Barry C. Hodge.

    144

    Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for American Atheists by Robert J. Bruno; for the American Humanist Association et al. by Elizabeth L. Hileman; for Americans United for Separation of Church and State et al. by William M. Hohengarten, Ian Heath Gershengorn, Ayesha Khan, Richard B. Katskee, and Judith E. Schaeffer; for the Anti-Defamation League et al. by Jeffrey R. Babbin, Aaron S. Bayer, Kenneth D. Heath, Frederick M. Lawrence, Daniel S. Alter, and Steven M. Freeman; for the Atheist Law Center et al. by Pamela L. Sumners and Larry Darby; for the Baptist Joint Committee et al. by Douglas Laycock, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, K. Hollyn Hollman, and Marc D. Stern; for the Council for Secular Humanism et al. by Ronald A. Lindsay; for the Freedom from Religion Foundation by James A. Friedman and James D. Peterson; and for Legal Historians and Law Scholars by Steven K. Green.

    145

    Julie Underwood filed a brief of amici curiae for the National School Boards Association et al.

    146

    [2] We do not consider here a display of the Ten Commandments in school-rooms in Harlan County, Kentucky, that was litigated in consolidated proceedings in the District Court and Court of Appeals. That display is the subject of a separate petition to this Court.

    147

    [3] This text comes from a record exhibit showing the Pulaski County Commandments that were part of the County's first and second displays. The District Court found that the displays in each County were functionally identical. 96 F. Supp. 2d 679, 682, n. 2 (ED Ky. 2000); 96 F. Supp. 2d 691, 693, n. 2 (ED Ky. 2000).

    148

    [4] The First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." This prohibition of establishment applies to "the States and their political subdivisions" through the Fourteenth Amendment. Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 301 (2000).

    149

    [5] The District Court noted that there was some confusion as to whether the Ten Commandments hung independently in the second display, or were incorporated into the copy of the page from the Congressional Record declaring 1983 "the Year of the Bible." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 684, and n. 4; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 695-696, and n. 4. The exhibits in the record depict the Commandments hanging as a separate item, Def. Exh. 9, and that is more consistent with the Counties' description of the second display in this Court. "[After erecting the first display] Petitioners posted additional donated documents.... This display consisted of the Ten Commandments along with other historical documents." Brief for Petitioners 2. Like the District Court, we find our analysis applies equally to either format.

    150

    [6] The court also found that the display had the effect of endorsing religion: "Removed from their historical context and placed with other documents with which the only common link is religion, the documents have the undeniable effect of endorsing religion." 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 688; 96 F. Supp. 2d, at 699-700.

    151

    [7] Before the District Court issued the modified injunction, the Counties removed the label of "King James Version" and the citation to Exodus. 145 F. Supp. 2d 845, 847 (ED Ky. 2001).

    152

    [8] The court also found that the effect of the third display was to endorse religion because the "reasonable observer will see one religious code placed alongside eight political or patriotic documents, and will understand that the counties promote that one religious code as being on a par with our nation's most cherished secular symbols and documents" and because the "reasonable observer [would know] something of the controversy surrounding these displays, which has focused on only one of the nine framed documents: the Ten Commandments." Id., at 851, 852.

    153

    [9] The Sixth Circuit did not decide whether the display had the impermissible effect of advancing religion because one judge, having found the display motivated by a religious purpose, did not reach that issue. 354 F. 3d, at 462 (Gibbons, J., concurring). The other judge in the majority concluded that a reasonable observer would find that the display had the effect of endorsing religion given the lack of analytical connection between the Commandments and the other documents in the display, the court-house location of the display, and the history of the displays. Id., at 458-459. The dissent found no effect of endorsement because it concluded that a reasonable observer would only see that the County had merely acknowledged the foundational role of the Ten Commandments rather than endorsed their religious content. Id., at 479-480.

    154

    [10] Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41 (1980) (per curiam); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 56-61 (1985); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 586-593 (1987); Santa Fe, 530 U. S., at 308-309.

    155

    [11] At least since Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1 (1947), it has been clear that Establishment Clause doctrine lacks the comfort of categorical absolutes. In special instances we have found good reason to hold governmental action legitimate even where its manifest purpose was presumably religious. See, e.g., Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983) (upholding legislative prayer despite its religious nature). No such reasons present themselves here.

    156

    [12] Moreover, JUSTICE O'CONNOR provided the fifth vote for the Lynch majority and her concurrence emphasized the point made implicitly in the majority opinion that a secular purpose must be serious to be sufficient. 465 U. S., at 691 (The purpose inquiry "is not satisfied ... by the mere existence of some secular purpose, however dominated by religious purposes").

    157

    [13] Stone found the sacred character of the Ten Commandments preeminent despite an avowed secular purpose to show their "adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law ...." 449 U. S., at 39-40, n. 1 (internal quotation marks omitted). And the Abington Court was unconvinced that music education or the teaching of literature were actual secular objects behind laws requiring public school teachers to lead recitations from the Lord's Prayer and readings from the Bible. 374 U. S., at 273.

    158

    [14] The dissent nonetheless maintains that the purpose test is satisfied so long as any secular purpose for the government action is apparent. Post, at 901-902 (opinion of SCALIA, J.). Leaving aside the fact that this position is inconsistent with the language of the cases just discussed, it would leave the purpose test with no real bite, given the ease of finding some secular purpose for almost any government action. While heightened deference to legislatures is appropriate for the review of economic legislation, an approach that credits any valid purpose, no matter how trivial, has not been the way the Court has approached government action that implicates establishment.

    159

    [15] One consequence of taking account of the purpose underlying past actions is that the same government action may be constitutional if taken in the first instance and unconstitutional if it has a sectarian heritage. This presents no incongruity, however, because purpose matters. Just as Holmes's dog could tell the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over, it will matter to objective observers whether posting the Commandments follows on the heels of displays motivated by sectarianism, or whether it lacks a history demonstrating that purpose. The dissent, apparently not giving the reasonable observer as much credit as Holmes's dog, contends that in practice it will be "absur[d]" to rely upon differences in purpose in assessing government action. Post, at 907. As an initial matter, it will be the rare case in which one of two identical displays violates the purpose prong. In general, like displays tend to show like objectives and will be treated accordingly. But where one display has a history manifesting sectarian purpose that the other lacks, it is appropriate that they be treated differently, for the one display will be properly understood as demonstrating a preference for one group of religious believers as against another. See supra, at 860-861. While posting the Commandments may not have the effect of causing greater adherence to them, an ostensible indication of a purpose to promote a particular faith certainly will have the effect of causing viewers to understand the government is taking sides.

    160

    [16] We note that the only factor in the preliminary injunction analysis that is at issue here is the likelihood of the ACLU's success on the merits.

    161

    [17] Although the Counties point out that the courthouses contained other displays besides the Ten Commandments, there is no suggestion that the Commandments display was integrated to form a secular display.

    162

    [18] In Stone, the Commandments were accompanied by a small disclaimer: "The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States." 449 U. S., at 39-40, n. 1 (internal quotation marks omitted).

    163

    [19] The Counties' other purposes were:

    164

    "to erect a display containing the Ten Commandments that is constitutional;... to demonstrate that the Ten Commandments were part of the foundation of American Law and Government; . . . [to include the Ten Commandments] as part of the display for their significance in providing `the moral background of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation of our legal tradition.'" 145 F. Supp. 2d, at 848 (some internal quotation marks omitted).

    165

    [20] Following argument in this case, in which the resolutions were discussed, the McCreary and Pulaski County Boards did repeal the resolutions, acts of obviously minimal significance in the evolution of the evidence.

    166

    [21] The Counties argue that the objective observer would not continue to believe that the resolution was in effect after the third display went up because the resolution authorized only the second display. But the resolution on its face is not limited to any particular display. On the contrary, it encourages the creation of a display with the Ten Commandments that also includes such documents as "the National anthem . . . the National Motto . . . the preamble to the Kentucky Constitution[,] the Declaration of Independence [and] the Mayflower Compact . . . without censorship because of any Christian or religious references." Def. Exh. 1, at 1. The third display contains all of these documents, suggesting that it fell within the resolutions as well. The record does not indicate whether the resolutions were posted with the third display.

    167

    [22] The Counties have now backed away from their broad assertion that the Commandments provide "the" moral background of the Declaration of Independence, and now merely claim that many of the Commandments "regarding murder, property, theft, coveting, marriage, rest from labor and honoring parents are compatible with the rights to life, liberty and happiness." Brief for Petitioners 10, n. 7.

    168

    [23] The Counties grasp at McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961), but it bears little resemblance to this case. As noted supra, at 861, McGowan held that religious purposes behind centuries-old predecessors of Maryland's Sunday laws were not dispositive of the purposes of modern Sunday laws, where the legislature had removed much of the religious reference in the laws and stated secular and pragmatic justifications for them. 366 U. S., at 446-452. But a conclusion that centuries-old purposes may no longer be operative says nothing about the relevance of recent evidence of purpose, and this case is far more like Santa Fe, with its evolution of a school football game prayer policy over the course of a single lawsuit. Like that case, "[t]his [one] comes to us as the latest step in developing litigation brought as a challenge to institutional practices that unquestionably violated the Establishment Clause." 530 U. S., at 315 (describing the evolution of the school district's football prayer policy). Thus, as in Santa Fe, it makes sense to examine the Counties' latest action "in light of [their] history of" unconstitutional practices. Id., at 309.

    169

    [24] The dissent notes that another depiction of Moses and the Commandments adorns this Court's east pediment. Post, at 906. But as with the courtroom frieze, Moses is found in the company of other figures, not only great but secular.

    170

    [25] The dissent also maintains that our precedents show that a solo display of the Commandments is a mere acknowledgment of religion "on par with the inclusion of a crèche or a menorah" in a holiday display, or an official's speech or prayer, post, at 905. Whether or not our views would differ about the significance of those practices if we were considering them as original matters, they manifest no objective of subjecting individual lives to religious influence comparable to the apparent and openly acknowledged purpose behind posting the Commandments. Crèches placed with holiday symbols and prayers by legislators do not insistently call for religious action on the part of citizens; the history of posting the Commandments expressed a purpose to urge citizens to act in prescribed ways as a personal response to divine authority.

    171

    [26] The dissent cites material suggesting that separationists like Jefferson and Madison were not absolutely consistent in abstaining from official religious acknowledgment. Post, at 888. But, a record of inconsistent historical practice is too weak a lever to upset decades of precedent adhering to the neutrality principle. And it is worth noting that Jefferson thought his actions were consistent with nonendorsement of religion and Madison regretted any backsliding he may have done. Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 622-625 (1992) (SOUTER, J., concurring). "Homer nodded." Id., at 624, n. 5 (corrected in erratum at 535 U. S. II).

    172

    [27] There might, indeed, even have been some reservations about monotheism as the paradigm example. It is worth noting that the canonical biography of George Washington, the dissent's primary exemplar of the monotheistic tradition, calls him a deist. J. Flexner, George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799), p. 490 (1972) ("Washington's religious belief was that of the enlightenment: deism"). It would have been odd for the First Congress to propose an Amendment with Religion Clauses that took no account of the President's religion. As with other historical matters pertinent here, however, there are conflicting conclusions. R. Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington 146 (1996) ("Washington's God was no watchmaker"). History writ small does not give clear and certain answers to questions about the limits of "religion" or "establishment."

    173

    [28] See, e.g., President's Thanksgiving Day 2004 Proclamation (Nov. 23, 2004), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/11/ XXXXXXXX-X.html (all Internet materials as visited June 24, 2005, and available in Clerk of Court's case file).

    174

    [29] The fountainhead of this jurisprudence, Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, based its dictum that "[n]either a state nor the Federal Government . . . can pass laws which . . . aid all religions," 330 U. S., at 15, on a review of historical evidence that focused on the debate leading up to the passage of the Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, see id., at 11-13. A prominent commentator of the time remarked (after a thorough review of the evidence himself) that it appeared the Court had been "sold . . . a bill of goods." Corwin, The Supreme Court as National School Board, 14 Law & Contemp. Prob. 3, 16 (1949).

    175

    [30] The Court thinks it "surpris[ing]" and "truly ... remarkable" to believe that "the deity the Framers had in mind" (presumably in all the instances of invocation of the deity I have cited) "was the God of monotheism." Ante, at 879. This reaction would be more comprehensible if the Court could suggest what other God (in the singular, and with a capital G) there is, other than "the God of monotheism." This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not); but it is inescapably the God of monotheism.

    176

    [31] This is not to say that a display of the Ten Commandments could never constitute an impermissible endorsement of a particular religious view. The Establishment Clause would prohibit, for example, governmental endorsement of a particular version of the Decalogue as authoritative. Here the display of the Ten Commandments alongside eight secular documents, and the plaque's explanation for their inclusion, make clear that they were not posted to take sides in a theological dispute.

    177

    [32] The two exceptions are the March 23, 1798, proclamation of John Adams, which asks God "freely to remit all our offenses" "through the Redeemer of the World," http://www.pilgrimhall.org/ThanxProc1789.htm, and the November 17, 1972, proclamation of Richard Nixon, which stated, "From Moses at the Red Sea to Jesus preparing to feed the multitudes, the Scriptures summon us to words and deeds of gratitude, even before divine blessings are fully perceived," Presidential Proclamation No. 4170, 37 Fed. Reg. 24647 (1972).

    178

    [33] JUSTICE STEVENS finds that Presidential inaugural and farewell speeches (which are the only speeches upon which I have relied) do not violate the Establishment Clause only because everyone knows that they express the personal religious views of the speaker, and not government policy. See Van Orden v. Perry, ante, at 723 (dissenting opinion). This is a peculiar stance for one who has voted that a student-led invocation at a high school football game and a rabbi-led invocation at a high school graduation did constitute the sort of governmental endorsement of religion that the Establishment Clause forbids. See Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290 (2000); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992).

    179

    [34] See Scalia, Originalism: The Lesser Evil, 57 Cincinnati L. Rev. 849, 852-853 (1989).

    180

    [35] Nothing so clearly demonstrates the utter inconsistency of our Establishment Clause jurisprudence as JUSTICE O'CONNOR'S stirring concurrence in the present case. "[W]e do not," she says, "count heads before enforcing the First Amendment." Ante, at 884. But JUSTICE O'CONNOR joined the opinion of the Court in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), which held legislative prayer to be "a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country." Id., at 792.

    181

    [36] The Court's reflexive skepticism of the government's asserted secular purposes is flatly inconsistent with the deferential approach taken by our previous Establishment Clause cases. We have repeated many times that, where a court undertakes the sensitive task of reviewing a government's asserted purpose, it must take the government at its word absent compelling evidence to the contrary. See, e.g., Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 586 (1987) (stating that "the Court is . . . deferential to a State's articulation of a secular purpose," unless that purpose is insincere or a sham); Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 394-395 (1983) (ascribing the Court's disinclination to invalidate government practices under Lemon's purpose prong to its "reluctance to attribute unconstitutional motives to the States, particularly when a plausible secular purpose for the State's program may be discerned from the face of the statute"); see also Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 74 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment) ("[T]he inquiry into the purpose of the legislature . . . should be deferential and limited").

    182

    [37] The Court's only response is that the inclusion of the Ten Commandments in a display about the foundations of American law reflects "a purpose to [call on] citizens to act in prescribed ways as a personal response to divine authority," in a way that legislative prayer and the inclusion of a crèche in a holiday display do not. See ante, at 878, n. 24. That might be true if the Commandments were displayed by themselves in a church, or even in someone's home. It seems to me patently untrue— given the Decalogue's "undeniable historical meaning" as a symbol of the religious foundations of law, see Van Orden, ante, at 690 (plurality opinion)—when they are posted in a courthouse display of historical documents. The observer would no more think himself "called upon to act" in conformance with the Commandments than he would think himself called upon to think and act like William Bradford because of the courthouse posting of the Mayflower Compact—especially when he is told that the exhibit consists of documents that contributed to American law and government.

    183

    [38] The significant number of cases involving Ten Commandments displays in the last two years suggests the breadth of their appearance. See, e.g., Books v. Elkhart County, 401 F. 3d 857, 858-859 (CA7 2005) (Ten Commandments included in a display identical to the Foundations Display); Mercier v. Fraternal Order of Eagles, 395 F. 3d 693, 696 (CA7 2005) (Ten Commandments monument in city park since 1965); Modrovich v. Allegheny County, 385 F. 3d 397, 399 (CA3 2004) (Ten Commandments plaque, donated in 1918, on wall of Allegheny County Courthouse); Freethought Soc. of Greater Philadelphia v. Chester County, 334 F. 3d 247, 249 (CA3 2003) (Ten Commandments plaque, donated in 1920, on wall of Chester County Courthouse); King v. Richmond County, 331 F. 3d 1271, 1273-1274 (CA11 2003) (Ten Commandments depicted in county seal since 1872).

    184

    [39] Because there are interpretational differences between faiths and within faiths concerning the meaning and perhaps even the text of the Commandments, JUSTICE STEVENS maintains that any display of the text of the Ten Commandments is impermissible because it "invariably places the [government] at the center of a serious sectarian dispute." Van Orden, ante, at 718-719 (dissenting opinion). I think not. The sectarian dispute regarding text, if serious, is not widely known. I doubt that most religious adherents are even aware that there are competing versions with doctrinal consequences (I certainly was not). In any event, the context of the display here could not conceivably cause the viewer to believe that the government was taking sides in a doctrinal controversy.

    185

    [40] Posted less than a month after respondents filed suit, the second displays included an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, a page from the Congressional Record declaring 1983 to be the Year of the Bible and the proclamation of President Reagan stating the same, a proclamation of President Lincoln designating April 30, 1863, as a National Day of Prayer and Humiliation, an excerpt from Lincoln's "Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible" stating that "[t]he Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man," and the Mayflower Compact. 96 F. Supp. 2d 679, 684 (ED Ky. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Counties erected the displays in accordance with a resolution passed by their legislative bodies, authorizing the County-Judge Executives "to read or post the Ten Commandments as the precedent legal code upon which the civil and criminal codes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are founded," and to display alongside the Ten Commandments copies of the documents listed above "without censorship because of any Christian or religious references in these writings, documents, and historical records." Def. Exh. 1 in Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Civ. Action No. 99-507, p. 1 (ED Ky.) (hereinafter Def. Exh. 1).

    186

    [41] Contrary to the Court's suggestion, see ante, at 872, n. 20, it is clear that the resolutions were closely tied to the second displays, but not to the third. Each of the documents included in the second displays was authorized by the resolutions, and those displays, consistent with the resolutions' direction to "post the Ten Commandments as the precedent legal code upon which the civil and criminal codes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are founded," Def. Exh. 1, supra,n. 13, at 1, consisted of a large copy of the Ten Commandments alongside much smaller framed copies of other historical, religious documents. The third displays, in contrast, included documents not mentioned in the resolutions (the Magna Carta and a picture of Lady Justice) and did not include documents authorized by the resolutions (correspondence and proclamations of Abraham Lincoln and the Resolution of Congress declaring 1983 to be the Year of the Bible).

    187

    The resolutions also provided that they were to be posted beside the displays that they authorized. Id., at 9. Yet respondents have never suggested the resolutions were posted next to the third displays, and the record before the Court indicates that they were not. The photos included in the Appendix show that the third displays included 10 frames— the nine historical documents and the prefatory statement explaining the relevance of each of the documents. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 177a (McCreary County), 178a (Pulaski County).

  • 4 Van Orden v. Perry

    1
    545 U.S. 677 (2005)
    2
    VAN ORDEN
    v.
    PERRY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS GOVERNOR OF TEXAS AND CHAIRMAN, STATE PRESERVATION BOARD, ET AL.
    3
    No. 03-1500.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued March 2, 2005.
    5
    Decided June 27, 2005.
    6

    [679] Erwin Chemerinsky argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Mark Rosenbaum and Paul Hoffman.

    7

    Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Barry R. McBee, First Assistant Attorney General, Edward D. Burbach and Don R. Willett, Deputy Attorneys General, R. Ted Cruz, Solicitor General, Joel L. Thollander and Amy Warr, Assistant Solicitors General, and Paul Michael Winget-Hernandez, Assistant Attorney General.

    8

    [680] Acting Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae in support of respondents. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katsas, Patricia A. Millett, Robert M. Loeb, and Lowell V. Sturgill, Jr.[1]

    9
    [681] CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which JUSTICE SCALIA, JUSTICE KENNEDY, and JUSTICE THOMAS join.
    10

    The question here is whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment allows the display of a monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments on the Texas State Capitol grounds. We hold that it does.

    11

    The 22 acres surrounding the Texas State Capitol contain 17 monuments and 21 historical markers commemorating the "people, ideals, and events that compose Texan identity." Tex. H. Con. Res. 38, 77th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2001).[2] The monolith challenged here stands 6-feet high and 3-feet wide. It is located to the north of the Capitol building, between the Capitol and the Supreme Court building. Its primary content is the text of the Ten Commandments. An eagle grasping the American flag, an eye inside of a pyramid, and two small tablets with what appears to be an ancient script are carved above the text of the Ten Commandments. Below the text are two Stars of David and the superimposed Greek letters Chi and Rho, which represent Christ. The bottom of the monument bears the inscription "PRESENTED [682] TO THE PEOPLE AND YOUTH OF TEXAS BY THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES OF TEXAS 1961." App. to Pet. for Cert. 21.

    12

    The legislative record surrounding the State's acceptance of the monument from the Eagles — a national social, civic, and patriotic organization — is limited to legislative journal entries. After the monument was accepted, the State selected a site for the monument based on the recommendation of the state organization responsible for maintaining the Capitol grounds. The Eagles paid the cost of erecting the monument, the dedication of which was presided over by two state legislators.

    13

    Petitioner Thomas Van Orden is a native Texan and a resident of Austin. At one time he was a licensed lawyer, having graduated from Southern Methodist Law School. Van Orden testified that, since 1995, he has encountered the Ten Commandments monument during his frequent visits to the Capitol grounds. His visits are typically for the purpose of using the law library in the Supreme Court building, which is located just northwest of the Capitol building.

    14

    Forty years after the monument's erection and six years after Van Orden began to encounter the monument frequently, he sued numerous state officials in their official capacities under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U. S. C. § 1983, seeking both a declaration that the monument's placement violates the Establishment Clause and an injunction requiring its removal. After a bench trial, the District Court held that the monument did not contravene the Establishment Clause. It found that the State had a valid secular purpose in recognizing and commending the Eagles for their efforts to reduce juvenile delinquency. The District Court also determined that a reasonable observer, mindful of the history, purpose, and context, would not conclude that this passive monument conveyed the message that the State was seeking to endorse religion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District [683] Court's holdings with respect to the monument's purpose and effect. 351 F. 3d 173 (CA5 2003). We granted certiorari, 543 U. S. 923 (2004), and now affirm.

    15

    Our cases, Januslike, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history. As we observed in School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963):

    16
    "It is true that religion has been closely identified with our history and government. . . . The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself. . . . It can be truly said, therefore, that today, as in the beginning, our national life reflects a religious people who, in the words of Madison, are `earnestly praying, as . . . in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe ... guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his [blessing....]'" Id., at 212-213.[3]
    17

    The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom.

    18

    This case, like all Establishment Clause challenges, presents us with the difficulty of respecting both faces. Our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being, yet these institutions must not press religious observances upon their citizens. One face looks to the past in acknowledgment of our Nation's heritage, while the other looks to the present in demanding a separation between church and state. Reconciling these two faces requires that we neither abdicate our [684] responsibility to maintain a division between church and state nor evince a hostility to religion by disabling the government from in some ways recognizing our religious heritage:

    19
    "When the state encourages religious instruction or co-operates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. . . . [W]e find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence." Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313-314 (1952).
    20

    See also Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 845-846 (1995) (warning against the "risk [of] fostering a pervasive bias or hostility to religion, which could undermine the very neutrality the Establishment Clause requires").[4]

    21

    [685] These two faces are evident in representative cases both upholding[5] and invalidating[6] laws under the Establishment Clause. Over the last 25 years, we have sometimes pointed [686] to Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), as providing the governing test in Establishment Clause challenges.[7] Compare Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38 (1985) (applying Lemon), with Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983) (not applying Lemon). Yet, just two years after Lemon was decided, we noted that the factors identified in Lemon serve as "no more than helpful signposts." Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 741 (1973). Many of our recent cases simply have not applied the Lemon test. See, e.g., Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639 (2002); Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U. S. 98 (2001). Others have applied it only after concluding that the challenged practice was invalid under a different Establishment Clause test.

    22

    Whatever may be the fate of the Lemon test in the larger scheme of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, we think it not useful in dealing with the sort of passive monument that Texas has erected on its Capitol grounds. Instead, our analysis is driven both by the nature of the monument and by our Nation's history.

    23

    As we explained in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984): "There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789." Id., at 674. For example, both Houses passed resolutions in 1789 asking President George Washington to issue a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed, by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many and signal favors of Almighty God." 1 Annals of Cong. 90, 914 (internal quotation marks omitted). President Washington's proclamation [687] directly attributed to the Supreme Being the foundations and successes of our young Nation:

    24
    "Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us." 1 J. Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, p. 64 (1899).
    25

    Recognition of the role of God in our Nation's heritage has also been reflected in our decisions. We have acknowledged, for example, that "religion has been closely identified with our history and government," School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 212, and that "[t]he history of man is inseparable from the history of religion," Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 434 (1962).[8] This recognition [688] has led us to hold that the Establishment Clause permits a state legislature to open its daily sessions with a prayer by a chaplain paid by the State. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S., at 792.[9] Such a practice, we thought, was "deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country." Id., at 786. As we observed there, "it would be incongruous to interpret [the Establishment Clause] as imposing more stringent First Amendment limits on the states than the draftsmen imposed on the Federal Government." Id., at 790-791. With similar reasoning, we have upheld laws, which originated from one of the Ten Commandments, that prohibited the sale of merchandise on Sunday. McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 431-440 (1961); see id., at 470-488 (separate opinion of Frankfurter, J.).

    26

    In this case we are faced with a display of the Ten Commandments on government property outside the Texas State Capitol. Such acknowledgments of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our Nation's heritage are common throughout America. We need only look within our own Courtroom. Since 1935, Moses has stood, holding two tablets that reveal portions of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew, among other lawgivers in the south frieze. Representations of the Ten Commandments adorn the metal gates lining the north and south sides of the Courtroom as well as the doors leading into the Courtroom. Moses also sits on the exterior east facade of the building holding the Ten Commandments tablets.

    27

    [689] Similar acknowledgments can be seen throughout a visitor's tour of our Nation's Capital. For example, a large statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul, has overlooked the rotunda of the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building since 1897. And the Jefferson Building's Great Reading Room contains a sculpture of a woman beside the Ten Commandments with a quote above her from the Old Testament (Micah 6:8). A medallion with two tablets depicting the Ten Commandments decorates the floor of the National Archives. Inside the Department of Justice, a statue entitled "The Spirit of Law" has two tablets representing the Ten Commandments lying at its feet. In front of the Ronald Reagan Building is another sculpture that includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments. So too a 24-foot-tall sculpture, depicting, among other things, the Ten Commandments and a cross, stands outside the federal courthouse that houses both the Court of Appeals and the District Court for the District of Columbia. Moses is also prominently featured in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives.[10]

    28

    Our opinions, like our building, have recognized the role the Decalogue plays in America's heritage. See, e.g., McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S., at 442; id., at 462 (separate opinion [690] of Frankfurter, J.).[11] The Executive and Legislative Branches have also acknowledged the historical role of the Ten Commandments. See, e.g., Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1950, p. 157 (1965); S. Con. Res. 13, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. (1997); H. Con. Res. 31, 105th Cong., 1st Sess. (1997). These displays and recognitions of the Ten Commandments bespeak the rich American tradition of religious acknowledgments.

    29

    Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious — they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument, therefore, has religious significance. According to Judeo-Christian belief, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. But Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader. And the Ten Commandments have an undeniable historical meaning, as the foregoing examples demonstrate. Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. See Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 680, 687; Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S., at 792; McGowan v. Maryland, supra, at 437-440; Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664, 676-678 (1970).

    30

    There are, of course, limits to the display of religious messages or symbols. For example, we held unconstitutional a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in every public schoolroom. Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam). In the classroom context, we found that the Kentucky statute had an improper and plainly religious purpose. Id., at 41. As evidenced by Stone's almost exclusive reliance upon two of our school [691] prayer cases, id., at 41-42 (citing School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963), and Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962)), it stands as an example of the fact that we have "been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools," Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 583-584 (1987). Compare Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 596-597 (1992) (holding unconstitutional a prayer at a secondary school graduation), with Marsh v. Chambers, supra (upholding a prayer in the state legislature). Indeed, Edwards v. Aguillard recognized that Stone — along with Schempp and Engel — was a consequence of the "particular concerns that arise in the context of public elementary and secondary schools." 482 U. S., at 584-585. Neither Stone itself nor subsequent opinions have indicated that Stone's holding would extend to a legislative chamber, see Marsh v. Chambers, supra, or to capitol grounds.[12]

    31

    The placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds is a far more passive use of those texts than was the case in Stone, where the text confronted elementary school students every day. Indeed, Van Orden, the petitioner here, apparently walked by the monument for a number of years before bringing this lawsuit. The monument is therefore also quite different from the prayers involved in Schempp and Lee v. Weisman. Texas has treated its Capitol grounds monuments as representing the several strands in the State's political and legal history. The inclusion of the Ten Commandments monument in this [692] group has a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government. We cannot say that Texas' display of this monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

    32

    The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

    33

    It is so ordered.

    34
    JUSTICE SCALIA, concurring.
    35

    I join the opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE because I think it accurately reflects our current Establishment Clause jurisprudence — or at least the Establishment Clause jurisprudence we currently apply some of the time. I would prefer to reach the same result by adopting an Establishment Clause jurisprudence that is in accord with our Nation's past and present practices, and that can be consistently applied — the central relevant feature of which is that there is nothing unconstitutional in a State's favoring religion generally, honoring God through public prayer and acknowledgment, or, in a nonproselytizing manner, venerating the Ten Commandments. See McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 885-894 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

    36
    JUSTICE THOMAS, concurring.
    37

    The Court holds that the Ten Commandments monument found on the Texas State Capitol grounds does not violate the Establishment Clause. Rather than trying to suggest meaninglessness where there is meaning, THE CHIEF JUSTICE rightly recognizes that the monument has "religious significance." Ante, at 690. He properly recognizes the role of religion in this Nation's history and the permissibility of government displays acknowledging that history. Ante, at 686-688. For those reasons, I join THE CHIEF JUSTICE'S opinion in full.

    38

    This case would be easy if the Court were willing to abandon the inconsistent guideposts it has adopted for addressing [693] Establishment Clause challenges,[13] and return to the original meaning of the Clause. I have previously suggested that the Clause's text and history "resis[t] incorporation" against the States. See Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 45-46 (2004) (opinion concurring in judgment); see also Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639, 677-680, and n. 3 (2002) (concurring opinion). If the Establishment Clause does not restrain the States, then it has no application here, where only state action is at issue.

    39

    Even if the Clause is incorporated, or if the Free Exercise Clause limits the power of States to establish religions, see Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 728, n. 3 (2005) (THOMAS, J., concurring), our task would be far simpler if we returned to the original meaning of the word "establishment" than it is under the various approaches this Court now uses. The Framers understood an establishment "necessarily [to] involve actual legal coercion." Newdow, supra, at 52 (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 640 (1992) (Scalia, J., dissenting) ("The coercion that was a hallmark of historical establishments of religion was coercion of religious orthodoxy and of financial support by force of law and threat of penalty"). "In other words, establishment at the founding involved, for example, mandatory observance or mandatory payment of taxes supporting ministers." Cutter, supra, at 729 (THOMAS, J., concurring). And "government practices that have nothing to do with creating or maintaining . . . coercive state establishments" simply do not "implicate the possible liberty interest of being [694] free from coercive state establishments." Newdow, supra, at 53 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment).

    40

    There is no question that, based on the original meaning of the Establishment Clause, the Ten Commandments display at issue here is constitutional. In no sense does Texas compel petitioner Van Orden to do anything. The only injury to him is that he takes offense at seeing the monument as he passes it on his way to the Texas Supreme Court Library. He need not stop to read it or even to look at it, let alone to express support for it or adopt the Commandments as guides for his life. The mere presence of the monument along his path involves no coercion and thus does not violate the Establishment Clause.

    41

    Returning to the original meaning would do more than simplify our task. It also would avoid the pitfalls present in the Court's current approach to such challenges. This Court's precedent elevates the trivial to the proverbial "federal case," by making benign signs and postings subject to challenge. Yet even as it does so, the Court's precedent attempts to avoid declaring all religious symbols and words of longstanding tradition unconstitutional, by counterfactually declaring them of little religious significance. Even when the Court's cases recognize that such symbols have religious meaning, they adopt an unhappy compromise that fails fully to account for either the adherent's or the nonadherent's beliefs, and provides no principled way to choose between them. Even worse, the incoherence of the Court's decisions in this area renders the Establishment Clause impenetrable and incapable of consistent application. All told, this Court's jurisprudence leaves courts, governments, and believers and nonbelievers alike confused — an observation that is hardly new. See Newdow, supra, at 45, n. 1 (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment) (collecting cases).

    42

    First, this Court's precedent permits even the slightest public recognition of religion to constitute an establishment of religion. For example, individuals frequenting a county [695] courthouse have successfully challenged as an Establishment Clause violation a sign at the courthouse alerting the public that the building was closed for Good Friday and containing a 4-inch-high crucifix. Granzeier v. Middleton, 955 F. Supp. 741, 743, and n. 2, 746-747 (ED Ky. 1997), aff'd on other grounds, 173 F. 3d 568, 576 (CA6 1999). Similarly, a park ranger has claimed that a cross erected to honor World War I veterans on a rock in the Mojave Desert Preserve violated the Establishment Clause, and won. See Buono v. Norton, 212 F. Supp. 2d 1202, 1204-1205, 1215-1217 (CD Cal. 2002). If a cross in the middle of a desert establishes a religion, then no religious observance is safe from challenge. Still other suits have charged that city seals containing religious symbols violate the Establishment Clause. See, e.g., Robinson v. Edmond, 68 F. 3d 1226 (CA10 1995); Murray v. Austin, 947 F. 2d 147 (CA5 1991); Friedman v. Board of Cty. Comm'rs of Bernalillo Cty., 781 F. 2d 777 (CA10 1985) (en banc). In every instance, the litigants are mere "[p]assersby . . . free to ignore [such symbols or signs], or even to turn their backs, just as they are free to do when they disagree with any other form of government speech." County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 664 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part).

    43

    Second, in a seeming attempt to balance out its willingness to consider almost any acknowledgment of religion an establishment, in other cases Members of this Court have concluded that the term or symbol at issue has no religious meaning by virtue of its ubiquity or rote ceremonial invocation. See, e.g., id., at 630-631 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 716-717 (1984) (Brennan, J., dissenting). But words such as "God" have religious significance. For example, just last Term this Court had before it a challenge to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the [696] phrase "one Nation under God." The declaration that our country is "`one Nation under God'" necessarily "entail[s] an affirmation that God exists." Newdow, 542 U. S., at 48 (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment). This phrase is thus anathema to those who reject God's existence and a validation of His existence to those who accept it. Telling either nonbelievers or believers that the words "under God" have no meaning contradicts what they know to be true. Moreover, repetition does not deprive religious words or symbols of their traditional meaning. Words like "God" are not vulgarities for which the shock value diminishes with each successive utterance.

    44

    Even when this Court's precedents recognize the religious meaning of symbols or words, that recognition fails to respect fully religious belief or disbelief. This Court looks for the meaning to an observer of indeterminate religious affiliation who knows all the facts and circumstances surrounding a challenged display. See, e.g., Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U. S. 753, 780 (1995) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (presuming that a reasonable observer is "aware of the history and context of the community and forum in which the religious display appears"). In looking to the view of this unusually informed observer, this Court inquires whether the sign or display "sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents `that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.'" Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 309-310 (2000) (quoting Lynch, supra, at 688 (O'Connor, J., concurring)).

    45

    This analysis is not fully satisfying to either nonadherents or adherents. For the nonadherent, who may well be more sensitive than the hypothetical "reasonable observer," or who may not know all the facts, this test fails to capture completely the honest and deeply felt offense he takes from [697] the government conduct. For the adherent, this analysis takes no account of the message sent by removal of the sign or display, which may well appear to him to be an act hostile to his religious faith. The Court's foray into religious meaning either gives insufficient weight to the views of nonadherents and adherents alike, or it provides no principled way to choose between those views. In sum, this Court's effort to assess religious meaning is fraught with futility.

    46

    Finally, the very "flexibility" of this Court's Establishment Clause precedent leaves it incapable of consistent application. See Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 640 (1987) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (criticizing the Lemon test's "flexibility" as "the absence of any principled rationale" (internal quotation marks omitted)). The inconsistency between the decisions the Court reaches today in this case and in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, p. 844, only compounds the confusion.

    47

    The unintelligibility of this Court's precedent raises the further concern that, either in appearance or in fact, adjudication of Establishment Clause challenges turns on judicial predilections. See, e.g., Harris v. Zion, 927 F. 2d 1401, 1425 (CA7 1991) (Easterbrook, J., dissenting) ("Line drawing in this area will be erratic and heavily influenced by the personal views of the judges"); post, at 700 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment) ("I see no test-related substitute for the exercise of legal judgment"). The outcome of constitutional cases ought to rest on firmer grounds than the personal preferences of judges.

    48

    Much, if not all, of this would be avoided if the Court would return to the views of the Framers and adopt coercion as the touchstone for our Establishment Clause inquiry. Every acknowledgment of religion would not give rise to an Establishment Clause claim. Courts would not act as theological commissions, judging the meaning of religious matters. Most important, our precedent would be capable of consistent and coherent application. While the Court correctly [698] rejects the challenge to the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, a more fundamental rethinking of our Establishment Clause jurisprudence remains in order.

    49
    JUSTICE BREYER, concurring in the judgment.
    50

    In School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963), Justice Goldberg, joined by Justice Harlan, wrote, in respect to the First Amendment's Religion Clauses, that there is "no simple and clear measure which by precise application can readily and invariably demark the permissible from the impermissible." Id., at 306 (concurring opinion). One must refer instead to the basic purposes of those Clauses. They seek to "assure the fullest possible scope of religious liberty and tolerance for all." Id., at 305. They seek to avoid that divisiveness based upon religion that promotes social conflict, sapping the strength of government and religion alike. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639, 717-729 (2002) (Breyer, J., dissenting). They seek to maintain that "separation of church and state" that has long been critical to the "peaceful dominion that religion exercises in [this] country," where the "spirit of religion" and the "spirit of freedom" are productively "united," "reign[ing] together" but in separate spheres "on the same soil." A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 282-283 (1835) (H. Mansfield & D. Winthrop transls. and eds. 2000). They seek to further the basic principles set forth today by JUSTICE O'Connor in her concurring opinion in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 881.

    51

    The Court has made clear, as Justices Goldberg and Harlan noted, that the realization of these goals means that government must "neither engage in nor compel religious practices," that it must "effect no favoritism among sects or between religion and nonreligion," and that it must "work deterrence of no religious belief." Schempp, supra, at 305 (concurring opinion); see also Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, [699] 587 (1992); Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 15-16 (1947). The government must avoid excessive interference with, or promotion of, religion. See generally County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 593-594 (1989); Zelman, supra, at 723-725 (BREYER, J., dissenting). But the Establishment Clause does not compel the government to purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious. See, e.g., Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983). Such absolutism is not only inconsistent with our national traditions, see, e.g., Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 614 (1971); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 672-678 (1984), but would also tend to promote the kind of social conflict the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid.

    52

    Thus, as Justices Goldberg and Harlan pointed out, the Court has found no single mechanical formula that can accurately draw the constitutional line in every case. See Schempp, 374 U. S., at 306 (concurring opinion). Where the Establishment Clause is at issue, tests designed to measure "neutrality" alone are insufficient, both because it is sometimes difficult to determine when a legal rule is "neutral," and because

    53
    "untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious." Ibid.
    54

    Neither can this Court's other tests readily explain the Establishment Clause's tolerance, for example, of the prayers that open legislative meetings, see Marsh, supra; certain references to, and invocations of, the Deity in the public words of public officials; the public references to God on coins, decrees, and buildings; or the attention paid to the religious objectives of certain holidays, including Thanksgiving. See, [700] e.g., Lemon, supra, at 612-613 (setting forth what has come to be known as the "Lemon test"); Lynch, supra, at 687 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring) (setting forth the "endorsement test"); Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U. S. 753, 800, n. 5 (1995) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (agreeing that an "endorsement test" should apply but criticizing its "reasonable observer" standard); Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 319 (2000) (REHNQUIST, C. J., dissenting) (noting Lemon's "checkered career in the decisional law of this Court"); County of Allegheny, supra, at 655-656 (Kennedy, J., joined by REHNQUIST, C. J., and White and SCALIA, JJ., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part) (criticizing the Lemon test).

    55

    If the relation between government and religion is one of separation, but not of mutual hostility and suspicion, one will inevitably find difficult borderline cases. And in such cases, I see no test-related substitute for the exercise of legal judgment. See Schempp, supra, at 305 (Goldberg, J., concurring); cf. Zelman, supra, at 726-728 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (need for similar exercise of judgment where quantitative considerations matter). That judgment is not a personal judgment. Rather, as in all constitutional cases, it must reflect and remain faithful to the underlying purposes of the Clauses, and it must take account of context and consequences measured in light of those purposes. While the Court's prior tests provide useful guideposts — and might well lead to the same result the Court reaches today, see, e.g., Lemon, supra, at 612-613; Capitol Square, supra, at 773-783 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) — no exact formula can dictate a resolution to such fact-intensive cases.

    56

    The case before us is a borderline case. It concerns a large granite monument bearing the text of the Ten Commandments located on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. On the one hand, the Commandments' text undeniably has a religious message, invoking, indeed emphasizing, the [701] Deity. On the other hand, focusing on the text of the Commandments alone cannot conclusively resolve this case. Rather, to determine the message that the text here conveys, we must examine how the text is used. And that inquiry requires us to consider the context of the display.

    57

    In certain contexts, a display of the tablets of the Ten Commandments can convey not simply a religious message but also a secular moral message (about proper standards of social conduct). And in certain contexts, a display of the tablets can also convey a historical message (about a historic relation between those standards and the law) — a fact that helps to explain the display of those tablets in dozens of courthouses throughout the Nation, including the Supreme Court of the United States. See generally App. to Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 1a-7a.

    58

    Here the tablets have been used as part of a display that communicates not simply a religious message, but a secular message as well. The circumstances surrounding the display's placement on the capitol grounds and its physical setting suggest that the State itself intended the latter, nonreligious aspects of the tablets' message to predominate. And the monument's 40-year history on the Texas state grounds indicates that that has been its effect.

    59

    The group that donated the monument, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a private civic (and primarily secular) organization, while interested in the religious aspect of the Ten Commandments, sought to highlight the Commandments' role in shaping civic morality as part of that organization's efforts to combat juvenile delinquency. See Tex. S. Con. Res. 16, 57th Leg., Reg. Sess. (1961). The Eagles' consultation with a committee composed of members of several faiths in order to find a nonsectarian text underscores the group's ethics-based motives. See Brief for Respondents 5-6, and n. 9. The tablets, as displayed on the monument, prominently acknowledge that the Eagles donated the display, a factor which, though not sufficient, thereby further distances [702] the State itself from the religious aspect of the Commandments' message.

    60

    The physical setting of the monument, moreover, suggests little or nothing of the sacred. See Appendix A, infra. The monument sits in a large park containing 17 monuments and 21 historical markers, all designed to illustrate the "ideals" of those who settled in Texas and of those who have lived there since that time. Tex. H. Con. Res. 38, 77th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2001); see Appendix B, infra. The setting does not readily lend itself to meditation or any other religious activity. But it does provide a context of history and moral ideals. It (together with the display's inscription about its origin) communicates to visitors that the State sought to reflect moral principles, illustrating a relation between ethics and law that the State's citizens, historically speaking, have endorsed. That is to say, the context suggests that the State intended the display's moral message — an illustrative message reflecting the historical "ideals" of Texans — to predominate.

    61

    If these factors provide a strong, but not conclusive, indication that the Commandments' text on this monument conveys a predominantly secular message, a further factor is determinative here. As far as I can tell, 40 years passed in which the presence of this monument, legally speaking, went unchallenged (until the single legal objection raised by petitioner). And I am not aware of any evidence suggesting that this was due to a climate of intimidation. Hence, those 40 years suggest more strongly than can any set of formulaic tests that few individuals, whatever their system of beliefs, are likely to have understood the monument as amounting, in any significantly detrimental way, to a government effort to favor a particular religious sect, primarily to promote religion over nonreligion, to "engage in" any "religious practic[e]," to "compel" any "religious practic[e]," or to "work deterrence" of any "religious belief." Schempp, 374 U. S., at 305 (Goldberg, J., concurring). Those 40 years suggest that [703] the public visiting the capitol grounds has considered the religious aspect of the tablets' message as part of what is a broader moral and historical message reflective of a cultural heritage.

    62

    This case, moreover, is distinguishable from instances where the Court has found Ten Commandments displays impermissible. The display is not on the grounds of a public school, where, given the impressionability of the young, government must exercise particular care in separating church and state. See, e.g., Weisman, 505 U. S., at 592; Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam). This case also differs from McCreary County, where the short (and stormy) history of the courthouse Commandments' displays demonstrates the substantially religious objectives of those who mounted them, and the effect of this readily apparent objective upon those who view them. See post, at 869-873 (opinion of the Court). That history there indicates a governmental effort substantially to promote religion, not simply an effort primarily to reflect, historically, the secular impact of a religiously inspired document. And, in today's world, in a Nation of so many different religious and comparable nonreligious fundamental beliefs, a more contemporary state effort to focus attention upon a religious text is certainly likely to prove divisive in a way that this longstanding, pre-existing monument has not.

    63

    For these reasons, I believe that the Texas display — serving a mixed but primarily nonreligious purpose, not primarily "advanc[ing]" or "inhibit[ing] religion," and not creating an "excessive government entanglement with religion" — might satisfy this Court's more formal Establishment Clause tests. Lemon, 403 U. S., at 612-613 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Capitol Square, 515 U. S., at 773-783 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). But, as I have said, in reaching the conclusion that the Texas display falls on the permissible side of the constitutional line, I rely less upon a literal application of any particular [704] test than upon consideration of the basic purposes of the First Amendment's Religion Clauses themselves. This display has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations. That experience helps us understand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive. And this matter of degree is, I believe, critical in a borderline case such as this one.

    64

    At the same time, to reach a contrary conclusion here, based primarily on the religious nature of the tablets' text would, I fear, lead the law to exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions. Such a holding might well encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments from public buildings across the Nation. And it could thereby create the very kind of religiously based divisiveness that the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid. Zelman, 536 U. S., at 717-729 (BREYER, J., dissenting).

    65

    Justices Goldberg and Harlan concluded in Schempp that

    66
    "[t]he First Amendment does not prohibit practices which by any realistic measure create none of the dangers which it is designed to prevent and which do not so directly or substantially involve the state in religious exercises or in the favoring of religion as to have meaningful and practical impact." 374 U. S., at 308 (concurring opinion).
    67

    That kind of practice is what we have here. I recognize the danger of the slippery slope. Still, where the Establishment Clause is at issue, we must "distinguish between real threat and mere shadow." Ibid. Here, we have only the shadow.

    68

    In light of these considerations, I cannot agree with today's plurality's analysis. Nor can I agree with JUSTICE Scalia's dissent in McCreary County, post, at 885. I do agree with JUSTICE O'Connor's statement of principles in McCreary County, post, at 881-883, though I disagree with [705] her evaluation of the evidence as it bears on the application of those principles to this case.

    69

    I concur in the judgment of the Court.

    70

    [Appendixes A and B to opinion of Breyer, J., follow this page.]

    71
    [706] APPENDIX A TO OPINION OF BREYER, J.
    72
    [707] JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE GINSBURG joins, dissenting.
    73

    The sole function of the monument on the grounds of Texas' State Capitol is to display the full text of one version of the Ten Commandments. The monument is not a work of art and does not refer to any event in the history of the State. It is significant because, and only because, it communicates the following message:

    74

    "I AM the LORD thy God.

    Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

    Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.

    Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.

    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

    Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

    Thou shalt not kill.

    Thou shalt not commit adultery.

    Thou shalt not steal.

    Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

    Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.

    Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." See Appendix, infra.[14]

    75

    Viewed on its face, Texas' display has no purported connection to God's role in the formation of Texas or the founding of our Nation; nor does it provide the reasonable observer with any basis to guess that it was erected to honor any individual or organization. The message transmitted by Texas' chosen display is quite plain: This State endorses the divine code of the "Judeo-Christian" God.

    76

    [708] For those of us who learned to recite the King James version of the text long before we understood the meaning of some of its words, God's Commandments may seem like wise counsel. The question before this Court, however, is whether it is counsel that the State of Texas may proclaim without violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. If any fragment of Jefferson's metaphorical "wall of separation between church and State"[15] is to be preserved — if there remains any meaning to the "wholesome `neutrality' of which this Court's [Establishment Clause] cases speak," School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 222 (1963) — a negative answer to that question is mandatory.

    77
    I
    78

    In my judgment, at the very least, the Establishment Clause has created a strong presumption against the display of religious symbols on public property. See, e.g., County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 650 (1989) (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U. S. 753, 797 (1995) (Stevens, J., dissenting). The adornment of our public spaces with displays of religious symbols and messages undoubtedly provides comfort, even inspiration, to many individuals who subscribe to particular faiths. Unfortunately, the practice also runs the risk of "offend[ing] nonmembers of the faith being advertised as well as adherents who consider the particular advertisement disrespectful." Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 651 (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).[16]

    79

    [709] Government's obligation to avoid divisiveness and exclusion in the religious sphere is compelled by the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, which together erect a wall of separation between church and state.[17] This metaphorical wall protects principles long recognized and often recited in this Court's cases. The first and most fundamental of these principles, one that a majority of this Court today affirms, is that the Establishment Clause demands religious neutrality — government may not exercise a preference for one religious faith over another. See, e.g., McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 874-876.[18] This essential command, however, is not merely a prohibition [710] against the government's differentiation among religious sects. We have repeatedly reaffirmed that neither a State nor the Federal Government "can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs." Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 495 (1961) (footnote omitted).[19] This principle is based on the straightforward notion that governmental promotion of orthodoxy is not saved by the aggregation of several orthodoxies under the State's banner. See Abington, 374 U. S., at 222.

    80

    Acknowledgments of this broad understanding of the neutrality principle are legion in our cases.[20] Strong arguments to the contrary have been raised from time to time, perhaps the strongest in then-Justice Rehnquist's scholarly dissent [711] in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 91-114 (1985).[21] Powerful as his argument was, we squarely rejected it and thereby reaffirmed the principle that the Establishment Clause requires the same respect for the atheist as it does for the adherent of a Christian faith. As we wrote, "the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all." Id., at 52-53.

    81

    In restating this principle, I do not discount the importance of avoiding an overly strict interpretation of the metaphor so often used to define the reach of the Establishment Clause. The plurality is correct to note that "religion and religious traditions" have played a "strong role . . . throughout our Nation's history." Ante, at 683. This Court has often recognized "an unbroken history of official acknowledgment. . . of the role of religion in American life." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 674 (1984); accord, Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 606-608 (1987) (Powell, J., concurring). Given this history, it is unsurprising that a religious symbol may at times become an important feature of a familiar landscape or a reminder of an important event in the history of a community. The wall that separates the church from the State does not prohibit the government from acknowledging the religious beliefs and practices of the American people, nor does it require governments to hide works of art or historic memorabilia from public view just because they also have religious significance.

    82

    This case, however, is not about historic preservation or the mere recognition of religion. The issue is obfuscated rather than clarified by simplistic commentary on the various [712] ways in which religion has played a role in American life, see ante, at 683-688 (plurality opinion), and by the recitation of the many extant governmental "acknowledgments" of the role the Ten Commandments played in our Nation's heritage,[22] ante, at 687-689, and n. 9. Surely, the mere compilation of religious symbols, none of which includes the full text of the Commandments and all of which are exhibited in different settings, has only marginal relevance to the question presented in this case.

    83

    The monolith displayed on Texas Capitol grounds cannot be discounted as a passive acknowledgment of religion, nor can the State's refusal to remove it upon objection be explained as a simple desire to preserve a historic relic. This Nation's resolute commitment to neutrality with respect to religion is flatly inconsistent with the plurality's wholehearted validation of an official state endorsement of the message that there is one, and only one, God.

    84
    II
    85

    When the Ten Commandments monument was donated to the State of Texas in 1961, it was not for the purpose of commemorating a noteworthy event in Texas history, signifying [713] the Commandments' influence on the development of secular law, or even denoting the religious beliefs of Texans at that time. To the contrary, the donation was only one of over a hundred largely identical monoliths, and of over a thousand paper replicas, distributed to state and local governments throughout the Nation over the course of several decades. This ambitious project was the work of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a well-respected benevolent organization whose good works have earned the praise of several Presidents.[23]

    86

    As the story goes, the program was initiated by the late Judge E. J. Ruegemer, a Minnesota juvenile court judge and then-Chairman of the Eagles National Commission on Youth Guidance. Inspired by a juvenile offender who had never heard of the Ten Commandments, the judge approached the Minnesota Eagles with the idea of distributing paper copies of the Commandments to be posted in courthouses nationwide. The State's Aerie undertook this project and its popularity spread. When Cecil B. DeMille, who at that time was filming the movie The Ten Commandments, heard of the judge's endeavor, he teamed up with the Eagles to produce the type of granite monolith now displayed in front of the Texas Capitol and at courthouse squares, city halls, and public parks throughout the Nation. Granite was reportedly chosen over DeMille's original suggestion of bronze plaques to better replicate the original Ten Commandments.[24]

    87

    [714] The donors were motivated by a desire to "inspire the youth" and curb juvenile delinquency by providing children with a "`code of conduct or standards by which to govern their actions.'"[25] It is the Eagles' belief that disseminating the message conveyed by the Ten Commandments will help to persuade young men and women to observe civilized standards of behavior, and will lead to more productive lives. Significantly, although the Eagles' organization is nonsectarian, eligibility for membership is premised on a belief in the existence of a "Supreme Being."[26] As described by the Eagles themselves:

    88

    "`[I]n searching for a youth guidance program [we] recognized that there can be no better, no more defined program of Youth Guidance, and adult guidance as well, than the laws handed down by God Himself to Moses more than 3000 years ago, which laws have stood unchanged through the years. They are a fundamental part of our lives, the basis of all our laws for living, the foundation of our relationship with our Creator, with our families and with our fellow men. All the concepts we [715] live by—freedom, democracy, justice, honor—are rooted in the Ten Commandments.

    . . . . .

    "`The erection of these monoliths is to inspire all who pause to view them, with a renewed respect for the law of God, which is our greatest strength against the forces that threaten our way of life.'" Anderson v. Salt Lake City Corp., 348 F. Supp. 1170, 1172 (Utah 1972), rev'd, 475 F. 2d 29 (CA10 1973).

    89

    The desire to combat juvenile delinquency by providing guidance to youths is both admirable and unquestionably secular. But achieving that goal through biblical teachings injects a religious purpose into an otherwise secular endeavor. By spreading the word of God and converting heathens to Christianity, missionaries expect to enlighten their converts, enhance their satisfaction with life, and improve their behavior. Similarly, by disseminating the "law of God"—directing fidelity to God and proscribing murder, theft, and adultery—the Eagles hope that this divine guidance will help wayward youths conform their behavior and improve their lives. In my judgment, the significant secular byproducts that are intended consequences of religious instruction—indeed, of the establishment of most religions—are not the type of "secular" purposes that justify government promulgation of sacred religious messages.

    90

    Though the State of Texas may genuinely wish to combat juvenile delinquency, and may rightly want to honor the Eagles for their efforts, it cannot effectuate these admirable purposes through an explicitly religious medium. See Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 639-640 (1988) (Blackmun, J., dissenting) ("It should be undeniable by now that religious dogma may not be employed by government even to accomplish laudable secular purposes"). The State may admonish its citizens not to lie, cheat, or steal, to honor their parents, and to respect their neighbors' property; and it may do so by printed words, in television commercials, or on granite [716] monuments in front of its public buildings. Moreover, the State may provide its schoolchildren and adult citizens with educational materials that explain the important role that our forebears' faith in God played in their decisions to select America as a refuge from religious persecution, to declare their independence from the British Crown, and to conceive a new Nation. See Edwards, 482 U. S., at 606-608 (Powell, J., concurring). The message at issue in this case, however, is fundamentally different from either a bland admonition to observe generally accepted rules of behavior or a general history lesson.

    91

    The reason this message stands apart is that the Decalogue is a venerable religious text.[27] As we held 25 years ago, it is beyond dispute that "[t]he Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths." Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41 (1980) (per curiam). For many followers, the Commandments represent the literal word of God as spoken to Moses and repeated to his followers after descending from Mount Sinai. The message conveyed by the Ten Commandments thus cannot be analogized to an appendage to a common article of commerce ("In God we Trust") or an incidental part of a familiar recital ("God save the United States and this honorable Court"). Thankfully, the plurality does not attempt to minimize the religious significance of the Ten Commandments. Ante, at 690 ("Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious—they were so viewed at their inception and so remain"); ante, at 692 (Thomas, J., concurring); see also McCreary County v. [717] American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 909 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). Attempts to secularize what is unquestionably a sacred text defy credibility and disserve people of faith.

    92

    The profoundly sacred message embodied by the text inscribed on the Texas monument is emphasized by the especially large letters that identify its author: "I AM the LORD thy God." See Appendix, infra. It commands present worship of Him and no other deity. It directs us to be guided by His teaching in the current and future conduct of all of our affairs. It instructs us to follow a code of divine law, some of which has informed and been integrated into our secular legal code ("Thou shalt not kill"), but much of which has not ("Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images. . . . Thou shalt not covet").

    93

    Moreover, despite the Eagles' best efforts to choose a benign nondenominational text,[28] the Ten Commandments display projects not just a religious, but an inherently sectarian, message. There are many distinctive versions of the Decalogue, ascribed to by different religions and even different denominations within a particular faith; to a pious and learned observer, these differences may be of enormous religious [718] significance.[29] See Lubet, The Ten Commandments in Alabama, 15 Constitutional Commentary 471, 474-476 (Fall 1998). In choosing to display this version of the Commandments, Texas tells the observer that the State supports this side of the doctrinal religious debate. The reasonable observer, after all, has no way of knowing that this text was the product of a compromise, or that there is a rationale of any kind for the text's selection.[30]

    94

    The Establishment Clause, if nothing else, prohibits government from "specifying details upon which men and women who believe in a benevolent, omnipotent Creator and Ruler of the world are known to differ." Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 641 (1992) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Given that the chosen text inscribed on the Ten Commandments monument invariably places the State at the center of a serious [719] sectarian dispute, the display is unquestionably unconstitutional under our case law. See Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228, 244 (1982) ("The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another").

    95

    Even if, however, the message of the monument, despite the inscribed text, fairly could be said to represent the belief system of all Judeo-Christians, it would still run afoul of the Establishment Clause by prescribing a compelled code of conduct from one God, namely, a Judeo-Christian God, that is rejected by prominent polytheistic sects, such as Hinduism, as well as nontheistic religions, such as Buddhism.[31] See, e.g., Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 615 (opinion of Blackmun, J.) ("The simultaneous endorsement of Judaism and Christianity is no less constitutionally infirm than the endorsement of Christianity alone"). And, at the very least, the text of the Ten Commandments impermissibly commands a preference for religion over irreligion. See, e.g., id., at 590 (The Establishment Clause "guarantee[s] religious liberty and equality to `the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent [720] of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism'" (quoting Wallace, 472 U. S., at 52)). Any of those bases, in my judgment, would be sufficient to conclude that the message should not be proclaimed by the State of Texas on a permanent monument at the seat of its government.

    96

    I do not doubt that some Texans, including those elected to the Texas Legislature, may believe that the statues displayed on the Texas Capitol grounds, including the Ten Commandments monument, reflect the "ideals . . . that compose Texan identity." Tex. H. Con. Res. 38, 77th Leg., Reg. Sess. (2001). But Texas, like our entire country, is now a much more diversified community than it was when it became a part of the United States or even when the monument was erected. Today there are many Texans who do not believe in the God whose Commandments are displayed at their seat of government. Many of them worship a different god or no god at all. Some may believe that the account of the creation in the Book of Genesis is less reliable than the views of men like Darwin and Einstein. The monument is no more an expression of the views of every true Texan than was the "Live Free or Die" motto that the State of New Hampshire placed on its license plates in 1969 an accurate expression of the views of every citizen of New Hampshire. See Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U. S. 705 (1977).

    97

    Recognizing the diversity of religious and secular beliefs held by Texans and by all Americans, it seems beyond peradventure that allowing the seat of government to serve as a stage for the propagation of an unmistakably Judeo-Christian message of piety would have the tendency to make nonmonotheists and nonbelievers "feel like [outsiders] in matters of faith, and [strangers] in the political community." Pinette, 515 U. S., at 799 (Stevens, J., dissenting). "[D]isplays of this kind inevitably have a greater tendency to emphasize sincere and deeply felt differences among individuals than to achieve an ecumenical goal." Allegheny County, 492 [721] U. S., at 651 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).[32]

    98

    Even more than the display of a religious symbol on government property, see Pinette, 515 U. S., at 797 (Stevens, J., dissenting); Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 650-651 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), displaying this sectarian text at the state capitol should invoke a powerful presumption of invalidity. As JUSTICE SOUTER'S opinion persuasively demonstrates, the physical setting in which the Texas monument is displayed—far from rebutting that presumption—actually enhances the religious content of its message. See post, at 742-743 (dissenting opinion). The monument's permanent fixture at the seat of Texas government is of immense significance. The fact that a monument

    99
    "is installed on public property implies official recognition and reinforcement of its message. That implication is especially strong when the sign stands in front of the seat of the government itself. The `reasonable observer' of any symbol placed unattended in front of any capitol in the world will normally assume that the sovereign—which is not only the owner of that parcel of real estate but also the lawgiver for the surrounding territory—has sponsored and facilitated its message." Pinette, 515 U. S., at 801-802 (Stevens, J., dissenting).
    100

    Critical examination of the Decalogue's prominent display at the seat of Texas government, rather than generic citation [722] to the role of religion in American life, unmistakably reveals on which side of the "slippery slope," ante, at 704 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment), this display must fall. God, as the author of its message, the Eagles, as the donor of the monument, and the State of Texas, as its proud owner, speak with one voice for a common purpose—to encourage Texans to abide by the divine code of a "Judeo-Christian" God. If this message is permissible, then the shining principle of neutrality to which we have long adhered is nothing more than mere shadow.

    101
    III
    102

    The plurality relies heavily on the fact that our Republic was founded, and has been governed since its nascence, by leaders who spoke then (and speak still) in plainly religious rhetoric. THE CHIEF JUSTICE cites, for instance, George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation in support of the proposition that the Establishment Clause does not proscribe official recognition of God's role in our Nation's heritage, ante, at 687.[33] Further, the plurality emphatically endorses the seemingly timeless recognition that our "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," ante, at 683. Many of the submissions made to this Court by the parties and amici, in accord with the plurality's opinion, have relied on the ubiquity of references to God throughout our history.

    103

    The speeches and rhetoric characteristic of the founding era, however, do not answer the question before us. I have already explained why Texas' display of the full text of the Ten Commandments, given the content of the actual display [723] and the context in which it is situated, sets this case apart from the countless examples of benign government recognitions of religion. But there is another crucial difference. Our leaders, when delivering public addresses, often express their blessings simultaneously in the service of God and their constituents. Thus, when public officials deliver public speeches, we recognize that their words are not exclusively a transmission from the government because those oratories have embedded within them the inherently personal views of the speaker as an individual member of the polity.[34] The permanent placement of a textual religious display on state property is different in kind; it amalgamates otherwise discordant individual views into a collective statement of government approval. Moreover, the message never ceases to transmit itself to objecting viewers whose only choices are to accept the message or to ignore the offense by averting their gaze. Cf. Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 664 (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part); ante, at 695 (Thomas, J., concurring). In this sense, although Thanksgiving Day proclamations and inaugural speeches undoubtedly seem official, in most circumstances they will not constitute the sort of governmental endorsement of religion at which the separation of church and state is aimed.[35]

    104

    [724] The plurality's reliance on early religious statements and proclamations made by the Founders is also problematic because those views were not espoused at the Constitutional Convention in 1787[36] nor enshrined in the Constitution's text. Thus, the presentation of these religious statements as a unified historical narrative is bound to paint a misleading picture. It does so here. In according deference to the statements of George Washington and John Adams, THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE SCALIA, see ante, at 687 (plurality opinion); McCreary County, post, at 886, 887-888 (dissenting opinion), fail to account for the acts and publicly espoused views of other influential leaders of that time. Notably absent from their historical snapshot is the fact that Thomas Jefferson refused to issue the Thanksgiving proclamations that Washington had so readily embraced based on the argument that to do so would violate the Establishment Clause.[37] THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE SCALIA disregard the substantial debates that took place regarding the constitutionality of the early proclamations and acts they cite, see, e.g., Letter from James Madison to Edward Livingston (July 10, 1822), in 5 Founders' Constitution 105-106 (arguing that Congress' appointment of Chaplains to be paid from the National Treasury was "not with my approbation" and was a "deviation" from the principle of "immunity of Religion from civil [725] jurisdiction"),[38] and paper over the fact that Madison more than once repudiated the views attributed to him by many, stating unequivocally that with respect to government's involvement with religion, the "`tendency to a usurpation on one side, or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference, in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, & protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.'"[39]

    105

    These seemingly nonconforming sentiments should come as no surprise. Not insignificant numbers of colonists came to this country with memories of religious persecution by [726] monarchs on the other side of the Atlantic. See A. Stokes & L. Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States 3-23 (rev. 1st. ed. 1964). Others experienced religious intolerance at the hands of colonial Puritans, who regrettably failed to practice the tolerance that some of their contemporaries preached. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 427-429 (1962). THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE SCALIA ignore the separationist impulses—in accord with the principle of "neutrality"—that these individuals brought to the debates surrounding the adoption of the Establishment Clause.[40]

    106

    Ardent separationists aside, there is another critical nuance lost in the plurality's portrayal of history. Simply put, many of the Founders who are often cited as authoritative expositors of the Constitution's original meaning understood the Establishment Clause to stand for a narrower proposition than the plurality, for whatever reason, is willing to accept. Namely, many of the Framers understood the word "religion" in the Establishment Clause to encompass only the various sects of Christianity.

    107

    The evidence is compelling. Prior to the Philadelphia Convention, the States had begun to protect "religious freedom" in their various constitutions. Many of those provisions, however, restricted "equal protection" and "free exercise" [727] to Christians, and invocations of the divine were commonly understood to refer to Christ.[41] That historical background likely informed the Framers' understanding of the First Amendment. Accordingly, one influential thinker wrote of the First Amendment that "`[t]he meaning of the term "establishment" in this amendment unquestionably is, the preference and establishment given by law to one sect of Christians over every other.'" Jasper Adams, The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States (Feb. 13, 1833) (quoted in Dreisbach 16). That definition tracked the understanding of the text Justice Story adopted in his famous Commentaries, in which he wrote that the "real object" of the Clause was

    108
    "not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus sought to cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and the power of subverting the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age." J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 991, p. 701 (R. Rotunda & J. Nowak eds. 1987) (hereinafter Story); see also Wallace, 472 U. S., at 52-55, and n. 36.[42]
    109

    [728] Along these lines, for nearly a century after the founding, many accepted the idea that America was not just a religious Nation, but "a Christian nation." Church of Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U. S. 457, 471 (1892).[43]

    110

    The original understanding of the type of "religion" that qualified for constitutional protection under the Establishment Clause likely did not include those followers of Judaism and Islam who are among the preferred "monotheistic" religions JUSTICE SCALIA has embraced in his McCreary County opinion. See post, at 893-894 (dissenting opinion).[44] [729] The inclusion of Jews and Muslims inside the category of constitutionally favored religions surely would have shocked Chief Justice Marshall and Justice Story. Indeed, JUSTICE SCALIA is unable to point to any persuasive historical evidence or entrenched traditions in support of his decision to give specially preferred constitutional status to all monotheistic religions. Perhaps this is because the history of the Establishment Clause's original meaning just as strongly supports a preference for Christianity as it does a preference for monotheism. Generic references to "God" hardly constitute evidence that those who spoke the word meant to be inclusive of all monotheistic believers; nor do such references demonstrate that those who heard the word spoken understood it broadly to include all monotheistic faiths. See supra, at 726-727. JUSTICE SCALIA'S inclusion of Judaism and Islam is a laudable act of religious tolerance, but it is one that is unmoored from the Constitution's history and text, and moreover one that is patently arbitrary in its inclusion of some, but exclusion of other (e.g., Buddhism), widely practiced non-Christian religions. See supra, at 719, and n. 18 (noting that followers of Buddhism nearly equal the number of Americans who follow Islam). Given the original understanding of the men who championed our "Christian nation"—men who had no cause to view anti-Semitism or contempt for atheists as problems worthy of civic concern— one must ask whether JUSTICE SCALIA "has not had the courage (or the foolhardiness) to apply [his originalism] principle consistently." McCreary County, post, at 890.

    111

    Indeed, to constrict narrowly the reach of the Establishment Clause to the views of the Founders would lead to more than this unpalatable result; it would also leave us with an unincorporated constitutional provision—in other words, one that limits only the federal establishment of "a national religion." See Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 [730] U. S. 1, 45, 50, 51 (2004) (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment); cf. A. Amar, The Bill of Rights 36-39 (1998). Under this view, not only could a State constitutionally adorn all of its public spaces with crucifixes or passages from the New Testament, it would also have full authority to prescribe the teachings of Martin Luther or Joseph Smith as the official state religion. Only the Federal Government would be prohibited from taking sides (and only then as between Christian sects).

    112

    A reading of the First Amendment dependent on either of the purported original meanings expressed above would eviscerate the heart of the Establishment Clause. It would replace Jefferson's "wall of separation" with a perverse wall of exclusion—Christians inside, non-Christians out. It would permit States to construct walls of their own choosing—Baptists inside, Mormons out; Jewish Orthodox inside, Jewish Reform out. A Clause so understood might be faithful to the expectations of some of our Founders, but it is plainly not worthy of a society whose enviable hallmark over the course of two centuries has been the continuing expansion of religious pluralism and tolerance. Cf. Abington, 374 U. S., at 214; Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639, 720, 723 (2002) (Breyer, J., dissenting).

    113

    Unless one is willing to renounce over 65 years of Establishment Clause jurisprudence and cross back over the incorporation bridge, see Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 303 (1940), appeals to the religiosity of the Framers ring hollow.[45] But even if there were a coherent way to embrace [731] incorporation with one hand while steadfastly abiding by the Founders' purported religious views on the other, the problem of the selective use of history remains. As the widely divergent views espoused by the leaders of our founding era plainly reveal, the historical record of the preincorporation Establishment Clause is too indeterminate to serve as an interpretive North Star.[46]

    114

    It is our duty, therefore, to interpret the First Amendment's command that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" not by merely asking what those words meant to observers at the time of the founding, but instead by deriving from the Clause's text and history the broad principles that remain valid today. As we have said in the context of statutory interpretation, legislation "often [goes] beyond the principal evil [at which the statute was aimed] to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal [732] concerns of our legislators by which we are governed." Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U. S. 75, 79 (1998). In similar fashion, we have construed the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit segregated schools, see Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U. S. 294 (1955), even though those who drafted that Amendment evidently thought that separate was not unequal.[47] We have held that the same Amendment prohibits discrimination against individuals on account of their gender, Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U. S. 677 (1973), despite the fact that the contemporaries of the Amendment "doubt[ed] very much whether any action of a State not directed by way of discrimination against the negroes as a class, or on account of their race, will ever be held to come within the purview of this provision," Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 81 (1873). And we have construed "evolving standards of decency" to make impermissible practices that were not considered "cruel and unusual" at the founding. See Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551, 587 (2005) (Stevens, J., concurring).

    115

    To reason from the broad principles contained in the Constitution does not, as JUSTICE SCALIA suggests, require us to abandon our heritage in favor of unprincipled expressions of personal preference. The task of applying the broad principles that the Framers wrote into the text of the First Amendment is, in any event, no more a matter of personal preference than is one's selection between two (or more) sides in a heated historical debate. We serve our constitutional mandate by expounding the meaning of constitutional provisions with one eye toward our Nation's history and the other fixed on its democratic aspirations. See McCulloch v. [733] Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 407, 415 (1819) ("[W]e must never forget, that it is a constitution we are expounding" that is intended to "endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs"). Constitutions, after all,

    116
    "are not ephemeral enactments, designed to meet passing occasions. They are, to use the words of Chief Justice Marshall, `designed to approach immortality as nearly as human institutions can approach it.' The future is their care and provision for events of good and bad tendencies of which no prophecy can be made. In the application of a constitution, therefore, our contemplation cannot be only of what has been but of what may be. Under any other rule a constitution would indeed be as easy of application as it would be deficient in efficacy and power. Its general principles would have little value and be converted by precedent into impotent and lifeless formulas." Weems v. United States, 217 U. S. 349, 373 (1910).
    117

    The principle that guides my analysis is neutrality.[48] The basis for that principle is firmly rooted in our Nation's [734] history and our Constitution's text. I recognize that the requirement that government must remain neutral between religion and irreligion would have seemed foreign to some of the Framers; so too would a requirement of neutrality between Jews and Christians. But cf. Letter from George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R. I. (Aug. 18, 1790), in 6 Papers of George Washington 284, 285 (D. Twohig ed. 1996). Fortunately, we are not bound by the Framers' expectations—we are bound by the legal principles they enshrined in our Constitution. Story's vision that States should not discriminate between Christian sects has as its foundation the principle that government must remain neutral between valid systems of belief. As religious pluralism has expanded, so has our acceptance of what constitutes valid belief systems. The evil of discriminating today against atheists, "polytheists[,] and believers in unconcerned deities," McCreary County, post, at 893 (Scalia, J., dissenting), is in my view a direct descendent of the evil of discriminating among Christian sects. The Establishment Clause [735] thus forbids it and, in turn, prohibits Texas from displaying the Ten Commandments monument the plurality so casually affirms.

    118
    IV
    119

    The Eagles may donate as many monuments as they choose to be displayed in front of Protestant churches, benevolent organizations' meeting places, or on the front lawns of private citizens. The expurgated text of the King James version of the Ten Commandments that they have crafted is unlikely to be accepted by Catholic parishes, Jewish synagogues, or even some Protestant denominations, but the message they seek to convey is surely more compatible with church property than with property that is located on the government side of the metaphorical wall.

    120

    The judgment of the Court in this case stands for the proposition that the Constitution permits governmental displays of sacred religious texts. This makes a mockery of the constitutional ideal that government must remain neutral between religion and irreligion. If a State may endorse a particular deity's command to "have no other gods before me," it is difficult to conceive of any textual display that would run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

    121

    The disconnect between this Court's approval of Texas' monument and the constitutional prohibition against preferring religion to irreligion cannot be reduced to the exercise of plotting two adjacent locations on a slippery slope. Cf. ante, at 704 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment). Rather, it is the difference between the shelter of a fortress and exposure to "the winds that would blow" if the wall were allowed to crumble. See TVA v. Hill, 437 U. S. 153, 195 (1978) (internal quotation marks omitted). That wall, however imperfect, remains worth preserving.

    122

    I respectfully dissent.

    123

    [Appendix to opinion of STEVENS, J., follows this page.]

    124
    [736] APPENDIX TO OPINION OF STEVENS, J.
    125
    [737] JUSTICE O'CONNOR, dissenting.
    126

    For essentially the reasons given by JUSTICE SOUTER, post this page (dissenting opinion), as well as the reasons given in my concurrence in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, p. 881, I respectfully dissent.

    127
    JUSTICE SOUTER, with whom JUSTICE STEVENS and JUSTICE GINSBURG join, dissenting.
    128

    Although the First Amendment's Religion Clauses have not been read to mandate absolute governmental neutrality toward religion, cf. Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398 (1963), the Establishment Clause requires neutrality as a general rule, e.g., Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 18 (1947), and thus expresses Madison's condemnation of "employ[ing] Religion as an engine of Civil policy," Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 2 Writings of James Madison 183, 187 (G. Hunt ed. 1901). A governmental display of an obviously religious text cannot be squared with neutrality, except in a setting that plausibly indicates that the statement is not placed in view with a predominant purpose on the part of government either to adopt the religious message or to urge its acceptance by others.

    129

    Until today, only one of our cases addressed the constitutionality of posting the Ten Commandments, Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41-42 (1980) (per curiam). A Kentucky statute required posting the Commandments on the walls of public school classrooms, and the Court described the State's purpose (relevant under the tripartite test laid out in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971)) as being at odds with the obligation of religious neutrality.

    130
    "The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine [738] themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day." 449 U. S., at 41-42 (footnote and citations omitted).
    131

    What these observations underscore are the simple realities that the Ten Commandments constitute a religious statement, that their message is inherently religious, and that the purpose of singling them out in a display is clearly the same.[49]

    132

    Thus, a pedestrian happening upon the monument at issue here needs no training in religious doctrine to realize that the statement of the Commandments, quoting God himself, proclaims that the will of the divine being is the source of obligation to obey the rules, including the facially secular ones. In this case, moreover, the text is presented to give particular prominence to the Commandments' first sectarian [739] reference, "I am the Lord thy God." That proclamation is centered on the stone and written in slightly larger letters than the subsequent recitation. To ensure that the religious nature of the monument is clear to even the most casual passerby, the word "Lord" appears in all capital letters (as does the word "am"), so that the most eye-catching segment of the quotation is the declaration "I AM the LORD thy God." App. to Pet. for Cert. 21. What follows, of course, are the rules against other gods, graven images, vain swearing, and Sabbath breaking. And the full text of the fifth Commandment puts forward filial respect as a condition of long life in the land "which the Lord thy God giveth thee." See ibid. These "words . . . make [the] religious meaning unmistakably clear." County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 598 (1989).

    133

    To drive the religious point home, and identify the message as religious to any viewer who failed to read the text, the engraved quotation is framed by religious symbols: two tablets with what appears to be ancient script on them, two Stars of David, and the superimposed Greek letters Chi and Rho as the familiar monogram of Christ. Nothing on the monument, in fact, detracts from its religious nature,[50] see ibid. ("Here, unlike in Lynch [v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984)], nothing in the context of the display detracts from the crèche's religious message"), and the plurality does not suggest otherwise. It would therefore be difficult to miss the point that the government of Texas[51] is telling everyone [740] who sees the monument to live up to a moral code because God requires it, with both code and conception of God being rightly understood as the inheritances specifically of Jews and Christians. And it is likewise unsurprising that the District Court expressly rejected Texas's argument that the State's purpose in placing the monument on the Capitol grounds was related to the Commandments' role as "part of the foundation of modern secular law in Texas and elsewhere." App. to Pet. for Cert. 32.

    134

    The monument's presentation of the Commandments with religious text emphasized and enhanced stands in contrast to any number of perfectly constitutional depictions of them, the frieze of our own Courtroom providing a good example, where the figure of Moses stands among history's great lawgivers. While Moses holds the tablets of the Commandments showing some Hebrew text, no one looking at the lines of figures in marble relief is likely to see a religious purpose behind the assemblage or take away a religious message from it. Only one other depiction represents a religious leader, and the historical personages are mixed with symbols of moral and intellectual abstractions like Equity and Authority. See County of Allegheny, supra, at 652 (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Since Moses enjoys no especial prominence on the frieze, viewers can readily take him to be there as a lawgiver in the company of other lawgivers; and the viewers may just as naturally see the tablets of the Commandments (showing the later ones, forbidding things like killing and theft, but without the divine preface) as background from which the concept of law [741] emerged, ultimately having a secular influence in the history of the Nation. Government may, of course, constitutionally call attention to this influence, and may post displays or erect monuments recounting this aspect of our history no less than any other, so long as there is a context and that context is historical. Hence, a display of the Commandments accompanied by an exposition of how they have influenced modern law would most likely be constitutionally unobjectionable.[52] [742] And the Decalogue could, as Stone suggested, be integrated constitutionally into a course of study in public schools. 449 U. S., at 42.[53]

    135

    Texas seeks to take advantage of the recognition that visual symbol and written text can manifest a secular purpose in secular company, when it argues that its monument (like Moses in the frieze) is not alone and ought to be viewed as only 1 among 17 placed on the 22 acres surrounding the State Capitol. Texas, indeed, says that the Capitol grounds are like a museum for a collection of exhibits, the kind of setting that several Members of the Court have said can render the exhibition of religious artifacts permissible, even though in other circumstances their display would be seen as meant to convey a religious message forbidden to the State. County of Allegheny, 492 U. S., at 595 (opinion of Blackmun, J., joined by STEVENS, J.); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 692 (1984) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). So, for example, the Government of the United States does not violate the Establishment Clause by hanging Giotto's Madonna on the wall of the National Gallery.

    136

    But 17 monuments with no common appearance, history, or esthetic role scattered over 22 acres is not a museum, and anyone strolling around the lawn would surely take each memorial on its own terms without any dawning sense that some purpose held the miscellany together more coherently [743] than fortuity and the edge of the grass. One monument expresses admiration for pioneer women. One pays respect to the fighters of World War II. And one quotes the God of Abraham whose command is the sanction for moral law. The themes are individual grit, patriotic courage, and God as the source of Jewish and Christian morality; there is no common denominator. In like circumstances, we rejected an argument similar to the State's, noting in County of Allegheny that "[t]he presence of Santas or other Christmas decorations elsewhere in the . . . [c]ourthouse, and of the nearby gallery forum, fail to negate the [crèche's] endorsement effect. . . . The record demonstrates . . . that the crèche, with its floral frame, was its own display distinct from any other decorations or exhibitions in the building." 492 U. S., at 598-599, n. 48.[54]

    137

    If the State's museum argument does nothing to blunt the religious message and manifestly religious purpose behind it, neither does the plurality's reliance on generalities culled from cases factually different from this one. E.g., ante, at 687 ("We have acknowledged, for example, that `religion has been closely identified with our history and government,' School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 212, and that `[t]he history of man is inseparable from the [744] history of religion,' Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 434 (1962)"). In fact, it is not until the end of its opinion that the plurality turns to the relevant precedent of Stone, a case actually dealing with a display of the Decalogue.

    138

    When the plurality finally does confront Stone, it tries to avoid the case's obvious applicability by limiting its holding to the classroom setting. The plurality claims to find authority for limiting Stone's reach this way in the opinion's citations of two school-prayer cases, School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963), and Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962). But Stone relied on those cases for widely applicable notions, not for any concept specific to schools. The opinion quoted Schempp's statements that "it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment," Schempp, supra, at 225, quoted in Stone, 449 U. S., at 42; and that "the place of the Bible as an instrument of religion cannot be gainsaid," Schempp, supra, at 224, quoted in Stone, supra, at 41, n. 3. And Engel was cited to support the proposition that the State was responsible for displaying the Commandments, even though their framed, printed texts were bought with private subscriptions. Stone, supra, at 42 ("[T]he mere posting of the [Commandments] under the auspices of the legislature provides the official support of the State Government that the Establishment Clause prohibits" (ellipsis and internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the schoolroom was beside the point of the citations, and that is presumably why the Stone Court failed to discuss the educational setting, as other opinions had done when school was significant. E.g., Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578, 584 (1987). Stone did not, for example, speak of children's impressionability or their captivity as an audience in a school class. In fact, Stone's reasoning reached the classroom only in noting the lack of support for the claim that the State had brought the Commandments into schools in order to "integrat[e] [them] into the school curriculum." 449 U. S., at 42. [745] Accordingly, our numerous prior discussions of Stone have never treated its holding as restricted to the classroom.[55]

    139

    Nor can the plurality deflect Stone by calling the Texas monument "a far more passive use of [the Decalogue] than was the case in Stone, where the text confronted elementary school students every day." Ante, at 691. Placing a monument on the ground is not more "passive" than hanging a sheet of paper on a wall when both contain the same text to be read by anyone who looks at it. The problem in Stone was simply that the State was putting the Commandments there to be seen, just as the monument's inscription is there for those who walk by it.

    140

    To be sure, Kentucky's compulsory-education law meant that the schoolchildren were forced to see the display every day, whereas many see the monument by choice, and those who customarily walk the Capitol grounds can presumably avoid it if they choose. But in my judgment (and under our often inexact Establishment Clause jurisprudence, such matters often boil down to judgment, see ante, at 700 (BREYER, J., concurring in judgment)), this distinction should make no difference. The monument in this case sits on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. There is something significant in the common term "statehouse" to refer to a state capitol building: it is the civic home of every one of the State's citizens. If neutrality in religion means something, any citizen should be able to visit that civic home without having to confront religious expressions clearly meant to convey an official religious position that may be at odds with his own [746] religion, or with rejection of religion. See County of Allegheny, 492 U. S., at 626 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) ("I agree that the crèche displayed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the seat of county government, conveys a message to nonadherents of Christianity that they are not full members of the political community. . . . The display of religious symbols in public areas of core government buildings runs a special risk of making religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community" (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted)).

    141

    Finally, though this too is a point on which judgment will vary, I do not see a persuasive argument for constitutionality in the plurality's observation that Van Orden's lawsuit comes "[f]orty years after the monument's erection . . .," ante, at 682, an observation that echoes the State's contention that one fact cutting in its favor is that "the monument had stood in Austin . . . for some forty years without generating any controversy or litigation," Brief for Respondents 25. It is not that I think the passage of time is necessarily irrelevant in Establishment Clause analysis. We have approved framing-era practices because they must originally have been understood as constitutionally permissible, e.g., Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983) (legislative prayer), and we have recognized that Sunday laws have grown recognizably secular over time, McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961). There is also an analogous argument, not yet evaluated, that ritualistic religious expression can become so numbing over time that its initial Establishment Clause violation becomes at some point too diminished for notice. But I do not understand any of these to be the State's argument, which rather seems to be that 40 years without a challenge shows that as a factual matter the religious expression is too tepid to provoke a serious reaction and constitute a violation. Perhaps, but the writer of Exodus chapter 20 was not lukewarm, and other explanations may do better in accounting [747] for the late resort to the courts. Suing a State over religion puts nothing in a plaintiff's pocket and can take a great deal out, and even with volunteer litigators to supply time and energy, the risk of social ostracism can be powerfully deterrent. I doubt that a slow walk to the courthouse, even one that took 40 years, is much evidentiary help in applying the Establishment Clause.

    142

    I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

    143

    -----------

    144

    [1] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for American Atheists by Robert J. Bruno; for the American Humanist Association et al. by Elizabeth L. Hileman; for the American Jewish Congress et al. by Marc D. Stern and Jeffrey Sinensky; for Americans United for Separation of Church and State et al. by Ian Heath Gershengorn, William M. Hohengarten, Ayesha Khan, Richard B. Katskee, Elliot M. Mincberg, and Judith E. Schaeffer; for the Anti-Defamation League et al. by Jeffrey R. Babbin, Aaron S. Bayer, Kenneth D. Heath, Frederick M. Lawrence, Daniel S. Alter, and Steven M. Freeman; for the Baptist Joint Committee et al. by Douglas Laycock and K. Hollyn Hollman; for the Council for Secular Humanism by Edward Tabash; for the Freedom from Religion Foundation by James A. Friedman and James D. Peterson; and for the Hindu American Foundation et al. by Henry C. Dinger, Jeffrey A. Simes, Keith A. Zullow, Aseem V. Mehta, and Jessica Jamieson.

    145

    Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Indiana et al. by Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Thomas M. Fisher, and Rebecca Walker, Deputy Attorney General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Troy King of Alabama, Terry Goddard of Arizona, Mike Beebe of Arkansas, Charles J. Crist, Jr., of Florida, Lawrence G. Wasden of Idaho, Phill Kline of Kansas, Gregory D. Stumbo of Kentucky, Charles C. Foti, Jr., of Louisiana, Jim Hood of Mississippi, Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota, Jim Petro of Ohio, Gerald J. Pappert of Pennsylvania, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, Lawrence E. Long of South Dakota, Mark L. Shurtleff of Utah, Jerry W. Kilgore of Virginia, and Patrick J. Crank of Wyoming; for the American Center for Law and Justice by Jay Alan Sekulow, Stuart J. Roth, Francis J. Manion, and Walter M. Weber; for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy by Stephen M. Crampton, Brian Fahling, and Michael J. DePrimo; for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty by Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.; for the Claremont Institute Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence by John C. Eastman and Edwin Meese III; for the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund by Douglas G. Smith and Phyllis Schlafly; for the Ethics and Public Policy Center by Mark A. Perry; for the Foundation for Moral Law, Inc., by Benjamin D. DuPré and Gregory M. Jones; for the Fraternal Order of Eagles by Kelly Shackelford and George A. Miller; for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs by Nathan Lewin, Alyza D. Lewin, Dennis Rapps, David Zwiebel, and Nathan J. Diament; for the Pacific Justice Institute by Peter D. Lepiscopo; for the Rutherford Institute by John W. Whitehead; and for Janet Napolitano et al. by Len L. Munsil.

    146

    Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the Atheist Law Center et al. by Pamela L. Sumners and Larry Darby; for the Chester County Historic Preservation Network by Alfred W. Putnam, Jr.; for Faith and Action et al. by Bernard P. Reese, Jr.; for Focus on the Family et al. by Benjamin W. Bull and Jordan W. Lorence; for the Thomas More Law Center by Edward L. White III; and for Wallbuilders, Inc., by Barry C. Hodge.

    147

    [2] The monuments are: Heroes of the Alamo, Hood's Brigade, Confederate Soldiers, Volunteer Fireman, Terry's Texas Rangers, Texas Cowboy, Spanish-American War, Texas National Guard, Ten Commandments, Tribute to Texas School Children, Texas Pioneer Woman, The Boy Scouts' Statue of Liberty Replica, Pearl Harbor Veterans, Korean War Veterans, Soldiers of World War I, Disabled Veterans, and Texas Peace Officers.

    148

    [3] See also Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 434 (1962) ("The history of man is inseparable from the history of religion"); Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313 (1952) ("We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being").

    149

    [4] Despite JUSTICE STEVENS' recitation of occasional language to the contrary, post, at 710-711, and n. 7 (dissenting opinion), we have not, and do not, adhere to the principle that the Establishment Clause bars any and all governmental preference for religion over irreligion. See, e.g., Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709 (2005); Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U. S. 327 (1987); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984); Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983); Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664 (1970). Even the dissenters do not claim that the First Amendment's Religion Clauses forbid all governmental acknowledgments, preferences, or accommodations of religion. See post, at 711 (opinion of Stevens, J.) (recognizing that the Establishment Clause permits some "recognition" or "acknowledgment" of religion); post, at 740-741, and n. 4 (opinion of SOUTER, J.) (discussing a number of permissible displays with religious content).

    150

    [5] Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U. S. 639 (2002) (upholding school voucher program); Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U. S. 98 (2001) (holding that allowing religious school groups to use school facilities does not violate the Establishment Clause); Agostini v. Felton, 521 U. S. 203 (1997) (approving a program that provided public employees to teach remedial classes at religious and other private schools), overruling Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402 (1985) (barring public school teachers from going to parochial schools to provide remedial education to disadvantaged children), and School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373 (1985) (striking down a program that provided classes to religious school students at public expense in classrooms leased from religious schools); Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819 (1995) (holding that the Establishment Clause does not bar disbursement of funds from student activity fees to religious organizations); Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U. S. 1 (1993) (allowing a public school district to provide a sign-language interpreter to a deaf student at a Catholic high school as part of a federal program for the disabled); Lynch v. Donnelly, supra (upholding a Christmas display including a crèche); Marsh v. Chambers, supra (upholding legislative prayer); Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388 (1983) (upholding tax deduction for certain expenses incurred in sending one's child to a religious school).

    151

    [6] Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290 (2000) (holding unconstitutional student-initiated and student-led prayer at school football games); Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U. S. 687 (1994) (invalidating a state law that created a new school district for a single religious community); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992) (prohibiting officially sponsored graduation prayers); County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573 (1989) (holding the display of a crèche in a courthouse unconstitutional but allowing the display of a menorah outside a county building); Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U. S. 1 (1989) (plurality opinion) (invalidating a sales tax exemption for all religious periodicals); Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578 (1987) (invalidating a law mandating the teaching of creationism if evolution was taught); Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U. S. 703 (1985) (invalidating state law that gave employees an absolute right not to work on their Sabbath); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38 (1985) (invalidating law mandating a daily minute of silence for meditation or voluntary prayer).

    152

    [7] Lemon sets out a three-prong test: "First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster `an excessive government entanglement with religion.'" 403 U. S., at 612-613 (citation omitted).

    153

    [8] See also Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 26 (2004) (Rehnquist, C. J., concurring in judgment) ("Examples of patriotic invocations of God and official acknowledgments of religion's role in our Nation's history abound"); id., at 35-36 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment) ("It is unsurprising that a Nation founded by religious refugees and dedicated to religious freedom should find references to divinity in its symbols, songs, mottoes, and oaths"); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 675 ("Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance").

    154

    [9] Indeed, we rejected the claim that an Establishment Clause violation was presented because the prayers had once been offered in the Judeo-Christian tradition: In Marsh, the prayers were often explicitly Christian, but the chaplain removed all references to Christ the year after the suit was filed. 463 U. S., at 793-794, and n. 14.

    155

    [10] Other examples of monuments and buildings reflecting the prominent role of religion abound. For example, the Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln Memorials all contain explicit invocations of God's importance. The apex of the Washington Monument is inscribed "Laus Deo," which is translated to mean "Praise be to God," and multiple memorial stones in the monument contain Biblical citations. The Jefferson Memorial is engraved with three quotes from Jefferson that make God a central theme. Inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial are two of Lincoln's most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. Both inscriptions include those speeches' extensive acknowledgments of God. The first federal monument, which was accepted by the United States in honor of sailors who died in Tripoli, noted the dates of the fallen sailors as "the year of our Lord, 1804, and in the 28 year of the independence of the United States."

    156

    [11] See also Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S., at 593-594; Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 677-678; id., at 691 (O'Connor, J., concurring); County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S., at 652-653 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 45 (1980) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).

    157

    [12] Nor does anything suggest that Stone would extend to displays of the Ten Commandments that lack a "plainly religious," "pre-eminent purpose," id., at 41. See Edwards v. Aguillard, supra, at 593-594 ("[Stone] did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization"). Indeed, we need not decide in this case the extent to which a primarily religious purpose would affect our analysis because it is clear from the record that there is no evidence of such a purpose in this case.

    158

    [13] See, e.g., County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573, 592-594 (1989) (employing endorsement test); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612-613 (1971) (setting forth three-pronged test); Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, 790-792 (1983) (upholding legislative prayer due to its "unique history"); see also Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 679-681 (1984) ("[W]e have repeatedly emphasized our unwillingness to be confined to any single test or criterion in this sensitive area").

    159

    [14] At the bottom of the message, the observer learns that the display was "[p]resented to the people and youth of Texas by the Fraternal Order of Eagles of Texas" in 1961. See Appendix, infra.

    160

    [15] Reynolds v. United States, 98 U. S. 145, 164 (1879); see also Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 16 (1947).

    161

    [16] As Senator Danforth recently reminded us, "efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith." Danforth, Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers, N. Y. Times, June 17, 2005, p. A27.

    162

    [17] The accuracy and utility of this metaphor have been called into question. See, e.g., Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 106 (1985) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); see generally P. Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (2002). Whatever one may think of the merits of the historical debate surrounding Jefferson and the "wall" metaphor, this Court at a minimum has never questioned the concept of the "separation of church and state" in our First Amendment jurisprudence. THE CHIEF JUSTICE'S opinion affirms that principle. Ante, at 683 (demanding a "separation between church and state"). Indeed, even the Court that famously opined that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313 (1952), acknowledged that "[t]here cannot be the slightest doubt that the First Amendment reflects the philosophy that Church and State should be separated," id., at 312. The question we face is how to give meaning to that concept of separation.

    163

    [18] There is now widespread consensus on this principle. See Everson, 330 U. S., at 15 ("Neither a state nor the Federal Government . . . can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another"); School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 226 (1963) ("In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality"); Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228, 244 (1982) ("The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another"); see also Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U. S. 687, 748 (1994) (Scalia, J., dissenting) ("I have always believed . . . that the Establishment Clause prohibits the favoring of one religion over others"); but see Church of Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U. S. 457, 470-471 (1892).

    164

    [19] In support of this proposition, the Torcaso Court quoted James Iredell, who in the course of debating the adoption of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina, stated: "`[I]t is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?'" 367 U. S., at 495, n. 10 (quoting 4 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution 194 (2d ed. 1891)).

    165

    [20] See Everson, 330 U. S., at 18 (the Establishment Clause "requires the state to be . . . neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers"); Abington, 374 U. S., at 216 (rejecting the proposition that the Establishment Clause "forbids only governmental preference of one religion over another"); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 52-55 (the interest in "forestalling intolerance extends beyond intolerance among Christian sects — or even intolerance among `religions' — to encompass intolerance of the disbeliever and the uncertain"); cf. Zorach, 343 U. S., at 325 (Jackson, J., dissenting) ("The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion it will cease to be free for religion — except for the sect that can win political power").

    166

    [21] JUSTICE SCALIA'S dissent in the other Ten Commandments case we decide today, see McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 885-894, raises similar objections. I address these objections directly in Part III.

    167

    [22] Though this Court has subscribed to the view that the Ten Commandments influenced the development of Western legal thought, it has not officially endorsed the far more specific claim that the Ten Commandments played a significant role in the development of our Nation's foundational documents (and the subsidiary implication that it has special relevance to Texas). Although it is perhaps an overstatement to characterize this latter proposition as "idiotic," see Tr. of Oral Arg. 34, as one Member of the plurality has done, at the very least the question is a matter of intense scholarly debate. Compare Brief for Legal Historians and Law Scholars as Amicus Curiae in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., O. T. 2004, No. 03-1693, with Brief for American Center for Law and Justice as Amicus Curiae. Whatever the historical accuracy of the proposition, the District Court categorically rejected respondents' suggestion that the State's actual purpose in displaying the Decalogue was to signify its influence on secular law and Texas institutions. App. to Pet. for Cert. 32.

    168

    [23] See Brief for Fraternal Order of Eagles as Amicus Curiae 2-3. The Order was formed in 1898 by six Seattle theater owners, promptly joined by actors, playwrights, and stagehands, and rapidly expanded to include a nationwide membership numbering over a million. Id., at 1-2; see also Fraternal Order of Eagles, Tenino Aerie No. 564 v. Grand Aerie of Fraternal Order of Eagles, 148 Wash. 2d 224, 229, 59 P. 3d 655, 657 (2002) (en banc); Lahmann v. Grand Aerie of Fraternal Order of Eagles, 180 Ore. App. 420, 422, 43 P. 3d 1130, 1131 (2002).

    169

    [24] See Books v. Elkhart, 235 F. 3d 292, 294-295 (CA7 2000); State v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., 898 P. 2d 1013, 1017 (Colo. 1995) (en banc); see also U. S. Supreme Court will hear Ten Commandments Case in Early 2005, http://www.foe.com/tencommandments/index.html (all Internet materials as visited June 24, 2005, and available in Clerk of Court's case file).

    170

    [25] Brief for Fraternal Order of Eagles as Amicus Curiae 4; Freedom from Religion Foundation, 898 P. 2d, at 1017; accord, Tex. S. Con. Res. 16, 57th Leg., Reg. Sess. (1961) ("These plaques and monoliths have been presented by the Eagles to promote youth morality and to help stop the alarming increase in delinquency").

    171

    [26] According to its articles of incorporation, the Eagles' purpose is to: "`[U]nite fraternally for mutual benefit, protection, improvement, social enjoyment and association, all persons of good moral character who believe in a Supreme Being to inculcate the principles of liberty, truth, justice and equality . . . .'" Fraternal Order of Eagles, 148 Wash. 2d, at 229, 59 P. 3d, at 657. See also Aerie Membership Application-Fraternal Order of Eagles, http://www.foe.com/membership/applications/aerie.html ("I, being of sound body and mind, and believing in the existence of a Supreme Being . . .").

    172

    [27] In County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U. S. 573 (1989), I noted that certain displays of religious images may convey "an equivocal message, perhaps of respect for Judaism, for religion in general, or for law." Id., at 652 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). It is rather misleading, however, to quote my comment in that case to imply that I was referring to the text of the Ten Commandments simpliciter. See McCreary County, post, at 904.

    173

    [28] See ante, at 701 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment). Despite the Eagles' efforts, not all of the monuments they donated in fact conform to a "universally-accepted" text. Compare, e.g., Appendix, infra (including the command that "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images"), and Adland v. Russ, 307 F. 3d 471, 475 (CA6 2002) (same), with Freedom from Religion Foundation, 898 P. 2d, at 1016 (omitting that command altogether). The distinction represents a critical divide between the Protestant and Catholic faiths. During the Reformation, Protestants destroyed images of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus Christ that were venerated in Catholic churches. Even today there is a notable difference between the imagery in different churches, a difference that may in part be attributable to differing understandings of the meaning of what is the Second Commandment in the King James Bible translation and a portion of the First Commandment in the Catholic translation. See Finkelman, The Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Lawn and Elsewhere, 73 Ford. L. Rev. 1477, 1493-1494 (2005) (hereinafter Finkelman).

    174

    [29] For example, in the Jewish version of the Sixth Commandment God commands: "You shall not murder"; whereas, the King James interpretation of the same command is: "Thou shalt not kill." Compare W. Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary 534 (1981), with Appendix, infra. The difference between the two versions is not merely semantic; rather, it is but one example of a deep theological dispute. See Finkelman 1481-1500; Maier, Enumerating the Decalogue: Do We Number the Ten Commandments Correctly? 16 Concordia J. 18, 18-26 (1990). Varying interpretations of this Commandment explain the actions of vegetarians who refuse to eat meat, pacifists who refuse to work for munitions makers, prison officials who refuse to administer lethal injections to death row inmates, and pharmacists who refuse to sell morning-after pills to women. See Finkelman 1494-1496; Brief for American Jewish Congress et al. as Amici Curiae 22-23. Although the command is ambiguous, its power to motivate like-minded interpreters of its message cannot be denied.

    175

    [30] JUSTICE SCALIA'S willingness to dismiss the distinct textual versions adhered to by different faiths in the name of generic "monotheism" based on mere speculation regarding their significance, McCreary County, post, at 909, is not only somewhat ironic, see A. Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation 23-25 (1997), but also serves to reinforce the concern that interjecting government into the religious sphere will offend "adherents who consider the particular advertisement disrespectful," Allegheny County, 492 U. S., at 651 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

    176

    [31] See Brief for Hindu American Foundation et al. as Amici Curiae. Though JUSTICE SCALIA disagrees that these sentiments are consistent with the Establishment Clause, he does not deny that our cases wholeheartedly adopt this expression of neutrality. Instead, he suggests that this Court simply discard what he terms the "say-so of earlier Courts," based in part on his own "say-so" that nonmonotheists make up a statistically insignificant portion of this Nation's religious community. McCreary County, post, at 889. Besides marginalizing the belief systems of more than 7 million Americans by deeming them unworthy of the special protections he offers monotheists under the Establishment Clause, JUSTICE SCALIA'S measure of analysis may be cause for concern even for the self-proclaimed "popular" religions of Islam and Judaism. The number of Buddhists alone is nearly equal to the number of Muslims in this country, and while those of the Islamic and Jewish faiths only account for 2.2% of all believers, Christianity accounts for 95.5%. See U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005, p. 55 (124th ed. 2004) (Table No. 67).

    177

    [32] The fact that this particular display has stood unchallenged for over 40 years does not suggest otherwise. One need look no further than the deluge of cases flooding lower courts to realize the discord these displays have engendered. See, e.g., Mercier v. Fraternal Order of Eagles, 395 F. 3d 693 (CA7 2005); ACLU Nebraska Foundation v. Plattsmouth, 358 F. 3d 1020 (CA8 2004); Adland v. Russ, 307 F. 3d 471 (CA6 2002); Summum v. Ogden, 297 F. 3d 995 (CA10 2002); Books v. Elkhart, 235 F. 3d 292 (CA7 2000); State v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., 898 P. 2d 1013 (Colo. 1995); Anderson v. Salt Lake City Corp., 475 F. 2d 29 (CA10 1973).

    178

    [33] This is, of course, a rhetorical approach not unique to the plurality's opinion today. Appeals to such religious speeches have frequently been used in support of governmental transmission of religious messages. See, e.g., Wallace, 472 U. S., at 98-104 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting); Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 633-636 (1992) (Scalia, J., dissenting); Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U. S. 290, 318 (2000) (REHNQUIST, C. J., dissenting); cf. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 675-676 (1984).

    179

    [34] It goes without saying that the analysis differs when a listener is coerced into listening to a prayer. See, e.g., Santa Fe Independent School Dist., 530 U. S., at 308-312.

    180

    [35] With respect to the "legislative prayers" cited approvingly by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, ante, at 687-688, I reiterate my view that "the designation of a member of one religious faith to serve as the sole official chaplain of a state legislature for a period of 16 years constitutes the preference of one faith over another in violation of the Establishment Clause." Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783, 823 (1983) (Stevens, J., dissenting). Thus, JUSTICE SCALIA and I are in agreement with respect to at least one point—this Court's decision in Marsh "ignor[ed] the neutrality principle" at the heart of the Establishment Clause. McCreary County, post, at 892 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

    181

    [36] See, e.g., J. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic 75 (1998) (noting the dearth of references to God at the Philadelphia Convention and that many contemporaneous observers of the Convention complained that "the Framers had unaccountably turned their backs on the Almighty" because they "`found the Constitution without any acknowledgement of God'").

    182

    [37] See Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Rev. S. Miller (Jan. 23, 1808), in 5 The Founders' Constitution 98 (P. Kurland & R. Lerner eds. 1987) (hereinafter Founders' Constitution); 11 Jefferson's Writings 428-430 (1905); see also Lee, 505 U. S., at 623-625 (Souter, J., concurring) (documenting history); Lynch, 465 U. S., at 716, n. 23 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (same).

    183

    [38] See also James Madison, Detached Memoranda, in 5 Founders' Constitution 103-104. Madison's letter to Livingston further argued: "There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eve of the Constitution. . . . Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between [Government] & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded [against]. . . . Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & [Government] will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." Id., at 105-106.

    184

    [39] Religion and Politics in the Early Republic 20-21 (D. Dreisbach ed. 1996) (hereinafter Dreisbach) (quoting Letter from James Madison to Jasper Adams (1833)). See also Letter from James Madison to Edward Livingston (July 10, 1822), in 5 Founders' Constitution 106 ("We are teaching the world the great truth that [governments] do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of [government]").

    185

    [40] The contrary evidence cited by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE SCALIA only underscores the obvious fact that leaders who have drafted and voted for a text are eminently capable of violating their own rules. The first Congress was—just as the present Congress is—capable of passing unconstitutional legislation. Thus, it is no answer to say that the Founders' separationist impulses were "plainly rejected" simply because the first Congress enacted laws that acknowledged God. See McCreary County, post, at 896 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). To adopt such an interpretive approach would misguidedly give authoritative weight to the fact that the Congress that proposed the Fourteenth Amendment also enacted laws that tolerated segregation, and the fact that 10 years after proposing the First Amendment, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Act, which indisputably violated our present understanding of the First Amendment. See n. 34, infra; Lee, 505 U. S., at 626 (Souter, J., concurring).

    186

    [41] See, e.g., Strang, The Meaning of "Religion" in the First Amendment, 40 Duquesne L. Rev. 181, 220-223 (2002).

    187

    [42] Justice Story wrote elsewhere that "`Christianity is indispensable to the true interests & solid foundations of all free governments. I distinguish . . . between the establishment of a particular sect, as the Religion of the State, & the Establishment of Christianity itself, without any preference of any particular form of it. I know not, indeed, how any deep sense of moral obligation or accountableness can be expected to prevail in the community without a firm persuasion of the great Christian Truths.'" Letter to Jasper Adams (May 14, 1833) (quoted in Dreisbach 19).

    188

    [43] See 143 U. S., at 471 ("`[W]e are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of . . . imposters'" (quoting People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 295 (N. Y. 1811))); see also Vidal v. Philadelphia, 2 How. 127, 198-199 (1844). These views should not be read as those of religious zealots. Chief Justice Marshall himself penned the historical genesis of the Court's assertion that our "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," see Zorach, 343 U. S., at 313, writing that the "`American population is entirely Christian, & with us, Christianity & Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, & did not often refer to it, & exhibit relations with it,'" Letter from John Marshall to Jasper Adams (May 9, 1833) (quoted in Dreisbach 18-19). Accord, Story § 988, at 700 ("[A]t the time of the adoption of the constitution, . . . the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state. . .").

    189

    [44] JUSTICE SCALIA'S characterization of this conclusion as nothing more than my own personal "assurance" is misleading to say the least. McCreary County, post, at 898. Reliance on our Nation's early constitutional scholars is common in this Court's opinions. In particular, the author of the plurality once noted that "Joseph Story, a Member of this Court from 1811 to 1845, and during much of that time a professor at the Harvard Law School, published by far the most comprehensive treatise on the United States Constitution that had then appeared." Wallace, 472 U. S., at 104 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting). And numerous opinions of this Court, including two notable opinions authored by JUSTICE SCALIA, have seen it fit to give authoritative weight to Joseph Story's treatise when interpreting other constitutional provisions. See, e.g., United States v. Gaudin, 515 U. S. 506, 510-511 (1995) (Fifth Amendment); Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U. S. 957, 981-982 (1991) (Eighth Amendment).

    190

    [45] JUSTICE SCALIA'S answer—that incorporation does not empty "the incorporated provisions of their original meaning," McCreary County, post, at 898—ignores the fact that the Establishment Clause has its own unique history. There is no evidence, for example, that incorporation of the Confrontation Clause ran contrary to the core of the Clause's original understanding. There is, however, some persuasive evidence to this effect regarding the Establishment Clause. See Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow,542 U. S. 1, 49 (2004) (Thomas, J., concurring in judgment) (arguing that the Clause was originally understood to be a "federalism provision" intended to prevent "Congress from interfering with state establishments"). It is this unique history, not incorporation writ large, that renders incoherent the postincorporation reliance on the Establishment Clause's original understanding.

    191

    JUSTICE THOMAS, at least, has faced this problem head on. See id., at 45 (opinion concurring in judgment). But even if the decision to incorporate the Establishment Clause was misguided, it is at this point unwise to reverse course given the weight of precedent that would have to be cast aside to reach the intended result. See B. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process 149 (1921) ("[T]he labor of judges would be increased almost to the breaking point if every past decision could be reopened in every case").

    192

    [46] See Lee, 505 U. S., at 626 (Souter, J., concurring) ("[A]t best, ... the Framers simply did not share a common understanding of the Establishment Clause," and at worst, their overtly religious proclamations show "that they . . . could raise constitutional ideals one day and turn their backs on them the next"); Lynch, 465 U. S., at 716 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (same); cf. Feldman, Intellectual Origins of the Establishment Clause, 77 N. Y. U. L. Rev. 346, 404-405 (2002) (noting that, for the Framers, "the term `establishment' was a contested one" and that the word "was used in both narrow and expansive ways in the debates of the time").

    193

    [47] See Hovenkamp, The Cultural Crises of the Fuller Court, 104 Yale L. J. 2309, 2337-2342 (1995) ("Equal protection had not been identified with social integration when the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted in 1866, nor when it was ratified in 1868, nor when Plessy [v. Ferguson, 163 U. S. 537,] was decided in 1896"); see also 1 L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 1-14, pp. 54-55, and n. 19 (3d ed. 2000) (collecting scholarship).

    194

    [48] JUSTICE THOMAS contends that the Establishment Clause cannot include such a neutrality principle because the Clause reaches only the governmental coercion of individual belief or disbelief. Ante, at 693-694 (concurring opinion). In my view, although actual religious coercion is undoubtedly forbidden by the Establishment Clause, that cannot be the full extent of the provision's reach. Jefferson's "wall" metaphor and his refusal to issue Thanksgiving proclamations, see supra, at 724, would have been nonsensical if the Clause reached only direct coercion. Further, under the "coercion" view, the Establishment Clause would amount to little more than a replica of our compelled speech doctrine, see, e.g., West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 639 (1943), with a religious flavor. A Clause so interpreted would not prohibit explicit state endorsements of religious orthodoxies of particular sects, actions that lie at the heart of what the Clause was meant to regulate. The government could, for example, take out television advertisements lauding Catholicism as the only pure religion. Under the reasoning endorsed by JUSTICE THOMAS, those programs would not be coercive because the viewer could simply turn off the television or ignore the ad. See ante,at 694 ("The mere presence of the monument . . . involves no coercion" because the passerby "need not stop to read it or even to look at it").

    195

    Further, the notion that the application of a "coercion" principle would somehow lead to a more consistent jurisprudence is dubious. Enshrining coercion as the Establishment Clause touchstone fails to eliminate the difficult judgment calls regarding "the form that coercion must take." McCreary County, post, at 909 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). Coercion may seem obvious to some, while appearing nonexistent to others. Compare Santa Fe Independent School Dist., 530 U. S., at 312, with Lee, 505 U. S., at 642 (SCALIA, J., dissenting). It may be a legal requirement or an effect that is indirectly inferred from a variety of factors. See, e.g., Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 431 (1962) ("When the power, prestige and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain"). In short, "reasonable people could, and no doubt would, argue about whether coercion existed in a particular situation." Feldman, 77 N. Y. U. L. Rev., at 415.

    196

    [49] The clarity of the religious manifestation in Stonewas unaffected by the State's effort to obscure it: the Kentucky statute that mandated posting the Commandments in classrooms also required the addition to every posting of a notation reading, "[t]he secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States." 449 U. S., at 39-40, n. 1 (internal quotation marks omitted).

    197

    In the present case, the religious purpose was evident on the part of the donating organization. When the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the group that gave the monument to the State of Texas, donated identical monuments to other jurisdictions, it was seeking to impart a religious message. See Adland v. Russ, 307 F. 3d 471, 475 (CA6 2002) (quoting the Eagles' statement in a letter written to Kentucky when a monument was donated to that Commonwealth: "`Most of today's younger generation either have not seen the Ten Commandments or have not been taught them. In our opinion the youth of today is in dire need of learning the simple laws of God . . .'"). Accordingly, it was not just the terms of the moral code, but the proclamation that the terms of the code were enjoined by God, that the Eagles put forward in the monuments they donated.

    198

    [50] That the monument also surrounds the text of the Commandments with various American symbols (notably the U. S. flag and a bald eagle) only underscores the impermissibility of Texas's actions: by juxtaposing these patriotic symbols with the Commandments and other religious signs, the monument sends the message that being American means being religious (and not just being religious but also subscribing to the Commandments, i. e., practicing a monotheistic religion).

    199

    [51] There is no question that the State in its own right is broadcasting the religious message. When Texas accepted the monument from the Eagles, the state legislature, aware that the Eagles "for the past several years have placed across the country . . . parchment plaques and granite monoliths of the Ten Commandments [in order] to promote youth morality and to help stop the alarming increase in delinquency," resolved "that the Fraternal Order of the Eagles of the State of Texas be commended and congratulated for its efforts and contributions in combating juvenile delinquency throughout our nation." App. 97. The State, then, expressly approved of the Eagles' proselytizing, which it made on its own.

    200

    [52] For similar reasons, the other displays of the Commandments that the plurality mentions, ante, at 688-689, do not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. The statues of Moses and St. Paul in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress are 2 of 16 set in close proximity, statues that "represent men illustrious in the various forms of thought and activity. . . ." The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building 127 (J. Cole and H. Reeds eds. 1997). Moses and St. Paul represent religion, while the other 14 (a group that includes Beethoven, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Columbus, and Plato) represent the nonreligious categories of philosophy, art, history, commerce, science, law, and poetry. Ibid. Similarly, the sculpture of the woman beside the Decalogue in the Main Reading Room is 1 of 8 such figures "represent[ing] eight characteristic features of civilized life and thought," the same 8 features (7 of them nonreligious) that Moses, St. Paul, and the rest of the 16 statues represent. Id.,at 125.

    201

    The inlay on the floor of the National Archives Building is one of four such discs, the collective theme of which is not religious. Rather, the discs "symbolize the various types of Government records that were to come into the National Archives." Letter from Judith A. Koucky, Archivist, Records Control Section, to Catherine Millard (Oct. 1, 2003), http://www.christianheritagemins.org/articles/Ten_Commandments/Letter_archivist.htm (as visited June 16, 2005, and available in Clerk of Court's case file). (The four categories are war and defense, history, justice, and legislation. Each disc is paired with a winged figure; the disc containing the depiction of the Commandments, a depiction that, notably, omits the Commandments' text, is paired with a figure representing legislation. Ibid.)

    202

    As for Moses's "prominen[t] featur[ing] in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives," ante, at 689 (plurality opinion), Moses is actually 1 of 23 portraits encircling the House Chamber, each approximately the same size, having no religious theme. The portraits depict "men noted in history for the part they played in the evolution of what has become American law." Art in the United States Capitol, House Doc. No. 94-660, p. 282 (1978). More importantly for purposes of this case, each portrait consists only of the subject's face; the Ten Commandments appear nowhere in Moses's portrait.

    203

    [53] Similarly permissible, though obviously of a different character, are laws that can be traced back to the Commandments (even the more religious ones) but are currently supported by nonreligious considerations. See McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., post, at 861 (opinion of the Court) (noting that in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420 (1961), the Court "upheld Sunday closing statutes on practical, secular grounds after finding that the government had forsaken the religious purposes behind centuries-old predecessor laws").

    204

    [54] It is true that the Commandments monument is unlike the display of the Commandments considered in the other Ten Commandments case we decide today, McCreary County. There the Commandments were posted at the behest of the county in the first instance, whereas the State of Texas received the monument as a gift from the Eagles, which apparently conceived of the donation at the suggestion of a movie producer bent on promoting his commercial film on the Ten Commandments, Books v. Elkhart, 235 F. 3d 292, 294-295 (CA7 2000), cert. denied, 532 U. S. 1058 (2001). But this distinction fails to neutralize the apparent expression of governmental intent to promote a religious message: although the nativity scene in County of Allegheny was donated by the Holy Name Society, we concluded that "[n]o viewer could reasonably think that [the scene] occupies [its] location [at the seat of county government] without the support and approval of the government." 492 U. S., at 599-600.

    205

    [55] In any event, the fact that we have been, as the plurality says, "`particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools,'" ante, at 691, does not of course mean that anything goes outside the schoolhouse. As cases like County of Allegheny and Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668 (1984), illustrate, we have also closely scrutinized government displays of religious symbols. And for reasons discussed in the text, the Texas monument cannot survive even a relaxed level of scrutiny.

  • 5 Epperson v. Arkansas

    1
    393 U.S. 97 (1968)
    2
    EPPERSON ET AL.
    v.
    ARKANSAS.
    3
    No. 7.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued October 16, 1968.
    5
    Decided November 12, 1968.
    6
    APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS.
    7

    [98] Eugene R. Warren argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief was Bruce T. Bullion.

    8

    Don Langston, Assistant Attorney General of Arkansas, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Joe Purcell, Attorney General.

    9

    Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by Leo Pfeffer, Melvin L. Wulf, and Joseph B. Robison for the American Civil Liberties Union et al., and by Philip J. Hirschkop for the National Education Association of the United States et al.

    10
    MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
    11
    I.
    12

    This appeal challenges the constitutionality of the "anti-evolution" statute which the State of Arkansas adopted in 1928 to prohibit the teaching in its public schools and universities of the theory that man evolved from other species of life. The statute was a product of the upsurge of "fundamentalist" religious fervor of the twenties. The Arkansas statute was an adaptation of the famous Tennessee "monkey law" which that State adopted in 1925.[1] The constitutionality of the Tennessee law was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the celebrated Scopes case in 1927.[2]

    13

    The Arkansas law makes it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university "to teach the [99] theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals," or "to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches" this theory. Violation is a misdemeanor and subjects the violator to dismissal from his position.[3]

    14

    The present case concerns the teaching of biology in a high school in Little Rock. According to the testimony, until the events here in litigation, the official textbook furnished for the high school biology course did not have a section on the Darwinian Theory. Then, for the academic year 1965-1966, the school administration, on recommendation of the teachers of biology in the school system, adopted and prescribed a textbook which contained a chapter setting forth "the theory about the origin . . . of man from a lower form of animal."

    15

    [100] Susan Epperson, a young woman who graduated from Arkansas' school system and then obtained her master's degree in zoology at the University of Illinois, was employed by the Little Rock school system in the fall of 1964 to teach 10th grade biology at Central High School. At the start of the next academic year, 1965, she was confronted by the new textbook (which one surmises from the record was not unwelcome to her). She faced at least a literal dilemma because she was supposed to use the new textbook for classroom instruction and presumably to teach the statutorily condemned chapter; but to do so would be a criminal offense and subject her to dismissal.

    16

    She instituted the present action in the Chancery Court of the State, seeking a declaration that the Arkansas statute is void and enjoining the State and the defendant officials of the Little Rock school system from dismissing her for violation of the statute's provisions. H. H. Blanchard, a parent of children attending the public schools, intervened in support of the action.

    17

    The Chancery Court, in an opinion by Chancellor Murray O. Reed, held that the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[4] The court noted that this Amendment encompasses the prohibitions upon state interference with freedom of speech and thought which are contained in the First Amendment. Accordingly, it held that the challenged statute is unconstitutional because, in violation of the First Amendment, it "tends to hinder the quest for knowledge, restrict the freedom to learn, and restrain the freedom to teach."[5] In this perspective, the Act, [101] it held, was an unconstitutional and void restraint upon the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution.

    18

    On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed.[6] Its two-sentence opinion is set forth in the margin.[7] It sustained the statute as an exercise of the State's power to specify the curriculum in public schools. It did not address itself to the competing constitutional considerations.

    19

    Appeal was duly prosecuted to this Court under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2). Only Arkansas and Mississippi have such "anti-evolution" or "monkey" laws on their books.[8] There is no record of any prosecutions in Arkansas [102] under its statute. It is possible that the statute is presently more of a curiosity than a vital fact of life in these States.[9] Nevertheless, the present case was brought, the appeal as of right is properly here, and it is our duty to decide the issues presented.

    20
    II.
    21

    At the outset, it is urged upon us that the challenged statute is vague and uncertain and therefore within the condemnation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The contention that the Act is vague and uncertain is supported by language in the brief opinion of Arkansas' Supreme Court. That court, perhaps reflecting the discomfort which the statute's quixotic prohibition necessarily engenders in the modern mind,[10] stated that it "expresses no opinion" as to whether the Act prohibits "explanation" of the theory of evolution or merely forbids "teaching that the theory is true." Regardless of this uncertainty, the court held that the statute is constitutional.

    22

    On the other hand, counsel for the State, in oral argument in this Court, candidly stated that, despite the State Supreme Court's equivocation, Arkansas would interpret the statute "to mean that to make a student aware of the theory . . . just to teach that there was [103] such a theory" would be grounds for dismissal and for prosecution under the statute; and he said "that the Supreme Court of Arkansas' opinion should be interpreted in that manner." He said: "If Mrs. Epperson would tell her students that `Here is Darwin's theory, that man ascended or descended from a lower form of being,' then I think she would be under this statute liable for prosecution."

    23

    In any event, we do not rest our decision upon the asserted vagueness of the statute. On either interpretation of its language, Arkansas' statute cannot stand. It is of no moment whether the law is deemed to prohibit mention of Darwin's theory, or to forbid any or all of the infinite varieties of communication embraced within the term "teaching." Under either interpretation, the law must be stricken because of its conflict with the constitutional prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The overriding fact is that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.[11]

    24
    III.
    25

    The antecedents of today's decision are many and unmistakable. They are rooted in the foundation soil of our Nation. They are fundamental to freedom.

    26

    Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, [104] and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.[12]

    27

    As early as 1872, this Court said: "The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect." Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 728. This has been the interpretation of the great First Amendment which this Court has applied in the many and subtle problems which the ferment of our national life has presented for decision within the Amendment's broad command.

    28

    Judicial interposition in the operation of the public school system of the Nation raises problems requiring care and restraint. Our courts, however, have not failed to apply the First Amendment's mandate in our educational system where essential to safeguard the fundamental values of freedom of speech and inquiry and of belief. By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities. Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.[13] On the other hand, "[t]he vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools," Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U. S. 479, 487 (1960). As this [105] Court said in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the First Amendment "does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom." 385 U. S. 589, 603 (1967).

    29

    The earliest cases in this Court on the subject of the impact of constitutional guarantees upon the classroom were decided before the Court expressly applied the specific prohibitions of the First Amendment to the States. But as early as 1923, the Court did not hesitate to condemn under the Due Process Clause "arbitrary" restrictions upon the freedom of teachers to teach and of students to learn. In that year, the Court, in an opinion by Justice McReynolds, held unconstitutional an Act of the State of Nebraska making it a crime to teach any subject in any language other than English to pupils who had not passed the eight grade.[14] The State's purpose in enacting the law was to promote civic cohesiveness by encouraging the learning of English and to combat the "baneful effect" of permitting foreigners to rear and educate their children in the language of the parents' native land. The Court recognized these purposes, and it acknowledged the State's power to prescribe the school curriculum, but it held that these were not adequate to support the restriction upon the liberty of teacher and pupil. The challenged statute, it held, unconstitutionally interfered with the right of the individual, guaranteed by the Due Process Clause, to engage in any of the common occupations of life and to acquire useful knowledge. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390 (1923). See also Bartels v. Iowa, 262 U. S. 404 (1923).

    30

    For purposes of the present case, we need not re-enter the difficult terrain which the Court, in 1923, traversed without apparent misgivings. We need not take advantage of the broad premise which the Court's decision [106] in Meyer furnishes, nor need we explore the implications of that decision in terms of the justiciability of the multitude of controversies that beset our campuses today. Today's problem is capable of resolution in the narrower terms of the First Amendment's prohibition of laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    31

    There is and can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma. In Everson v. Board of Education, this Court, in upholding a state law to provide free bus service to school children, including those attending parochial schools, said: "Neither [a State nor the Federal Government] can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another." 330 U. S. 1, 15 (1947).

    32

    At the following Term of Court, in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203 (1948), the Court held that Illinois could not release pupils from class to attend classes of instruction in the school buildings in the religion of their choice. This, it said, would involve the State in using tax-supported property for religious purposes, thereby breaching the "wall of separation" which, according to Jefferson, the First Amendment was intended to erect between church and state. Id., at 211. See also Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962); Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203 (1963). While study of religions and of the Bible from a literary and historic viewpoint, presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, need not collide with the First Amendment's prohibition, the State may not adopt programs or practices in its public schools or colleges which "aid or oppose" any religion. Id., at 225. This prohibition is absolute. It forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition [107] of theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma. As Mr. Justice Clark stated in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, "the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them . . . ." 343 U. S. 495, 505 (1952). The test was stated as follows in Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 222: "[W]hat are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution."

    33

    These precedents inevitably determine the result in the present case. The State's undoubted right to prescribe the curriculum for its public schools does not carry with it the right to prohibit, on pain of criminal penalty, the teaching of a scientific theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment. It is much too late to argue that the State may impose upon the teachers in its schools any conditions that it chooses, however restrictive they may be of constitutional guarantees. Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U. S. 589, 605-606 (1967).

    34

    In the present case, there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man. No suggestion has been made that Arkansas' law may be justified by considerations of state policy other than the religious views of some of its citizens.[15] It is clear [108] that fundamentalist sectarian conviction was and is the law's reason for existence.[16] Its antecedent, Tennessee's "monkey law," candidly stated its purpose: to make it unlawful "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a [109] lower order of animals."[17] Perhaps the sensational publicity attendant upon the Scopes trial induced Arkansas to adopt less explicit language.[18] It eliminated Tennessee's reference to "the story of the Divine Creation of man" as taught in the Bible, but there is no doubt that the motivation for the law was the same: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, "denied" the divine creation of man.

    35

    Arkansas' law cannot be defended as an act of religious neutrality. Arkansas did not seek to excise from the curricula of its schools and universities all discussion of the origin of man. The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.

    36

    The judgment of the Supreme Court of Arkansas is

    37

    Reversed.

    38
    MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring.
    39

    I am by no means sure that this case presents a genuinely justiciable case or controversy. Although Arkansas Initiated Act No. 1, the statute alleged to be unconstitutional, was passed by the voters of Arkansas in 1928, we are informed that there has never been even a single attempt by the State to enforce it. And the pallid, unenthusiastic, even apologetic defense of the Act presented by the State in this Court indicates that the State would make no attempt to enforce the law [110] should it remain on the books for the next century. Now, nearly 40 years after the law has slumbered on the books as though dead, a teacher alleging fear that the State might arouse from its lethargy and try to punish her has asked for a declaratory judgment holding the law unconstitutional. She was subsequently joined by a parent who alleged his interest in seeing that his two then school-age sons "be informed of all scientific theories and hypotheses . . . ." But whether this Arkansas teacher is still a teacher, fearful of punishment under the Act, we do not know. It may be, as has been published in the daily press, that she has long since given up her job as a teacher and moved to a distant city, thereby escaping the dangers she had imagined might befall her under this lifeless Arkansas Act. And there is not one iota of concrete evidence to show that the parent-intervenor's sons have not been or will not be taught about evolution. The textbook adopted for use in biology classes in Little Rock includes an entire chapter dealing with evolution. There is no evidence that this chapter is not being freely taught in the schools that use the text-book and no evidence that the intervenor's sons, who were 15 and 17 years old when this suit was brought three years ago, are still in high school or yet to take biology. Unfortunately, however, the State's languid interest in the case has not prompted it to keep this Court informed concerning facts that might easily justify dismissal of this alleged lawsuit as moot or as lacking the qualities of a genuine case or controversy.

    40

    Notwithstanding my own doubts as to whether the case presents a justiciable controversy, the Court brushes aside these doubts and leaps headlong into the middle of the very broad problems involved in federal intrusion into state powers to decide what subjects and school-books it may wish to use in teaching state pupils. While I hesitate to enter into the consideration and decision [111] of such sensitive state-federal relationships, I reluctantly acquiesce. But, agreeing to consider this as a genuine case or controversy, I cannot agree to thrust the Federal Government's long arm the least bit further into state school curriculums than decision of this particular case requires. And the Court, in order to invalidate the Arkansas law as a violation of the First Amendment, has been compelled to give the State's law a broader meaning than the State Supreme Court was willing to give it. The Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion, in its entirety, stated that:

    41
    "Upon the principal issue, that of constitutionality, the court holds that Initiated Measure No. 1 of 1928, Ark. Stat. Ann. § 80-1627 and § 80-1628 (Repl. 1960), is a valid exercise of the state's power to specify the curriculum in its public schools. The court expresses no opinion on the question whether the Act prohibits any explanation of the theory of evolution or merely prohibits teaching that the theory is true; the answer not being necessary to a decision in the case, and the issue not having been raised."
    42

    It is plain that a state law prohibiting all teaching of human development or biology is constitutionally quite different from a law that compels a teacher to teach as true only one theory of a given doctrine. It would be difficult to make a First Amendment case out of a state law eliminating the subject of higher mathematics, or astronomy, or biology from its curriculum. And, for all the Supreme Court of Arkansas has said, this particular Act may prohibit that and nothing else. This Court, however, treats the Arkansas Act as though it made it a misdemeanor to teach or to use a book that teaches that evolution is true. But it is not for this Court to arrogate to itself the power to determine the scope of Arkansas statutes. Since the highest court of [112] Arkansas has deliberately refused to give its statute that meaning, we should not presume to do so.

    43

    It seems to me that in this situation the statute is too vague for us to strike it down on any ground but that: vagueness. Under this statute as construed by the Arkansas Supreme Court, a teacher cannot know whether he is forbidden to mention Darwin's theory at all or only free to discuss it as long as he refrains from contending that it is true. It is an established rule that a statute which leaves an ordinary man so doubtful about its meaning that he cannot know when he has violated it denies him the first essential of due process. See, e. g., Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U. S. 385, 391 (1926). Holding the statute too vague to enforce would not only follow long-standing constitutional precedents but it would avoid having this Court take unto itself the duty of a State's highest court to interpret and mark the boundaries of the State's laws. And, more important, it would not place this Court in the unenviable position of violating the principle of leaving the States absolutely free to choose their own curriculums for their own schools so long as their action does not palpably conflict with a clear constitutional command.

    44

    The Court, not content to strike down this Arkansas Act on the unchallengeable ground of its plain vagueness, chooses rather to invalidate it as a violation of the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment. I would not decide this case on such a sweeping ground for the following reasons, among others.

    45

    1. In the first place I find it difficult to agree with the Court's statement that "there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man." It may be instead that the people's motive was merely that it would be best to remove this controversial [113] subject from its schools; there is no reason I can imagine why a State is without power to withdraw from its curriculum any subject deemed too emotional and controversial for its public schools. And this Court has consistently held that it is not for us to invalidate a statute because of our views that the "motives" behind its passage were improper; it is simply too difficult to determine what those motives were. See, e. g., United States v. O'Brien, 391 U. S. 367, 382-383 (1968).

    46

    2. A second question that arises for me is whether this Court's decision forbidding a State to exclude the subject of evolution from its schools infringes the religious freedom of those who consider evolution an anti-religious doctrine. If the theory is considered anti-religious, as the Court indicates, how can the State be bound by the Federal Constitution to permit its teachers to advocate such an "anti-religious" doctrine to schoolchildren? The very cases cited by the Court as supporting its conclusion hold that the State must be neutral, not favoring one religious or anti-religious view over another. The Darwinian theory is said to challenge the Bible's story of creation; so too have some of those who believe in the Bible, along with many others, challenged the Darwinian theory. Since there is no indication that the literal Biblical doctrine of the origin of man is included in the curriculum of Arkansas schools, does not the removal of the subject of evolution leave the State in a neutral position toward these supposedly competing religious and anti-religious doctrines? Unless this Court is prepared simply to write off as pure nonsense the views of those who consider evolution an anti-religious doctrine, then this issue presents problems under the Establishment Clause far more troublesome than are discussed in the Court's opinion.

    47

    3. I am also not ready to hold that a person hired to teach school children takes with him into the classroom a constitutional right to teach sociological, economic, [114] political, or religious subjects that the school's managers do not want discussed. This Court has said that the rights of free speech "while fundamental in our democratic society, still do not mean that everyone with opinions or beliefs to express may address a group at any public place and at any time." Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536, 554; Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 559, 574. I question whether it is absolutely certain, as the Court's opinion indicates, that "academic freedom" permits a teacher to breach his contractual agreement to teach only the subjects designated by the school authorities who hired him.

    48

    Certainly the Darwinian theory, precisely like the Genesis story of the creation of man, is not above challenge. In fact the Darwinian theory has not merely been criticized by religionists but by scientists, and perhaps no scientist would be willing to take an oath and swear that everything announced in the Darwinian theory is unquestionably true. The Court, it seems to me, makes a serious mistake in bypassing the plain, unconstitutional vagueness of this statute in order to reach out and decide this troublesome, to me, First Amendment question. However wise this Court may be or may become hereafter, it is doubtful that, sitting in Washington, it can successfully supervise and censor the curriculum of every public school in every hamlet and city in the United States. I doubt that our wisdom is so nearly infallible.

    49

    I would either strike down the Arkansas Act as too vague to enforce, or remand to the State Supreme Court for clarification of its holding and opinion.

    50
    MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
    51

    I think it deplorable that this case should have come to us with such an opaque opinion by the State's highest court. With all respect, that court's handling of the [115] case savors of a studied effort to avoid coming to grips with this anachronistic statute and to "pass the buck" to this Court. This sort of temporizing does not make for healthy operations between the state and federal judiciaries. Despite these observations, I am in agreement with this Court's opinion that, the constitutional claims having been properly raised and necessarily decided below, resolution of the matter by us cannot properly be avoided.[19] See, e. g., Chicago Life Insurance Co. v. Needles, 113 U. S. 574, 579 (1885).

    52

    I concur in so much of the Court's opinion as holds that the Arkansas statute constitutes an "establishment of religion" forbidden to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. I do not understand, however, why the Court finds it necessary to explore at length appellants' contentions that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and that it interferes with free speech, only to conclude that these issues need not be decided in this case. In the process of not deciding them, the Court obscures its otherwise straightforward holding, and opens its opinion to possible implications from which I am constrained to disassociate myself.

    53
    MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring in the result.
    54

    The States are most assuredly free "to choose their own curriculums for their own schools." A State is entirely [116] free, for example, to decide that the only foreign language to be taught in its public school system shall be Spanish. But would a State be constitutionally free to punish a teacher for letting his students know that other languages are also spoken in the world? I think not.

    55

    It is one thing for a State to determine that "the subject of higher mathematics, or astronomy, or biology" shall or shall not be included in its public school curriculum. It is quite another thing for a State to make it a criminal offense for a public school teacher so much as to mention the very existence of an entire system of respected human thought. That kind of criminal law, I think, would clearly impinge upon the guarantees of free communication contained in the First Amendment, and made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth.

    56

    The Arkansas Supreme Court has said that the statute before us may or may not be just such a law. The result, as MR. JUSTICE BLACK points out, is that "a teacher cannot know whether he is forbidden to mention Darwin's theory at all." Since I believe that no State could constitutionally forbid a teacher "to mention Darwin's theory at all," and since Arkansas may, or may not, have done just that, I conclude that the statute before us is so vague as to be invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Cramp v. Board of Pub. Instruction, 368 U. S. 278.

    57

    ----------

    58

    [1] Chapter 27, Tenn. Acts 1925; Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1922 (1966 Repl. Vol.).

    59

    [2] Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S. W. 363 (1927). The Tennessee court, however, reversed Scopes' conviction on the ground that the jury and not the judge should have assessed the fine of $100. Since Scopes was no longer in the State's employ, it saw "nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case." It directed that a nolle prosequi be entered, in the interests of "the peace and dignity of the State." 154 Tenn., at 121, 289 S. W., at 367.

    60

    [3]Initiated Act No. 1, Ark. Acts 1929; Ark. Stat. Ann. §§ 80-1627, 80-1628 (1960 Repl. Vol.). The text of the law is as follows:

    61

    "§ 80-1627.—Doctrine of ascent or descent of man from lower order of animals prohibited.—It shall be unlawful for any teacher or other instructor in any University, College, Normal, Public School, or other institution of the State, which is supported in whole or in part from public funds derived by State and local taxation to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals and also it shall be unlawful for any teacher, textbook commission, or other authority exercising the power to select textbooks for above mentioned educational institutions to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches the doctrine or theory that mankind descended or ascended from a lower order of animals.

    "§ 80-1628.—Teaching doctrine or adopting textbook mentioning doctrine—Penalties—Positions to be vacated.—Any teacher or other instructor or textbook commissioner who is found guilty of violation of this act by teaching the theory or doctrine mentioned in section 1 hereof, or by using, or adopting any such textbooks in any such educational institution shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars; and upon conviction shall vacate the position thus held in any educational institutions of the character above mentioned or any commission of which he may be a member."

    62

    [4] The opinion of the Chancery Court is not officially reported.

    63

    [5] The Chancery Court analyzed the holding of its sister State of Tennessee in the Scopes case sustaining Tennessee's similar statute. It refused to follow Tennessee's 1927 example. It declined to confine the judicial horizon to a view of the law as merely a direction by the State as employer to its employees. This sort of astigmatism, it held, would ignore overriding constitutional values, and "should not be followed," and it proceeded to confront the substance of the law and its effect.

    64

    [6] 242 Ark. 922, 416 S. W. 2d 322 (1967).

    65

    [7]

    66

    "Per Curiam. Upon the principal issue, that of constitutionality, the court holds that Initiated Measure No. 1 of 1928, Ark. Stat. Ann. § 80-1627 and § 80-1628 (Repl. 1960), is a valid exercise of the state's power to specify the curriculum in its public schools. The court expresses no opinion on the question whether the Act prohibits any explanation of the theory of evolution or merely prohibits teaching that the theory is true; the answer not being necessary to a decision in the case, and the issue not having been raised.

    "The decree is reversed and the cause dismissed.

    "Ward, J., concurs. Brown, J., dissents.

    "Paul Ward, Justice, concurring. I agree with the first sentence in the majority opinion.

    "To my mind, the rest of the opinion beclouds the clear announcement made in the first sentence."

    67

    [8] Miss. Code Ann. §§ 6798, 6799 (1942). Ark. Stat. Ann. §§ 80-1627, 80-1628 (1960 Repl. Vol.). The Tennessee law was repealed in 1967. Oklahoma enacted an anti-evolution law, but it was repealed in 1926. The Florida and Texas Legislatures, in the period between 1921 and 1929, adopted resolutions against teaching the doctrine of evolution. In all, during that period, bills to this effect were introduced in 20 States. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Gag on Teaching 8 (2d ed., 1937).

    68

    [9] Clarence Darrow, who was counsel for the defense in the Scopes trial, in his biography published in 1932, somewhat sardonically pointed out that States with anti-evolution laws did not insist upon the fundamentalist theory in all respects. He said: "I understand that the States of Tennessee and Mississippi both continue to teach that the earth is round and that the revolution on its axis brings the day and night, in spite of all opposition." The Story of My Life 247 (1932).

    69

    [10] R. Hofstadter & W. Metzger, in The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States 324 (1955), refer to some of Darwin's opponents as "exhibiting a kind of phylogenetic snobbery [which led them] to think that Darwin had libeled the [human] race by discovering simian rather than seraphic ancestors."

    70

    [11] In Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 126, 289 S. W. 363, 369 (1927), Judge Chambliss, concurring, referred to the defense contention that Tennessee's anti-evolution law gives a "preference" to "religious establishments which have as one of their tenets or dogmas the instantaneous creation of man."

    71

    [12] Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1, 18 (1947); McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203 (1948); Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 313-314 (1952); Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U. S. 67 (1953); Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 495 (1961).

    72

    [13] See the discussion in Developments in The Law—Academic Freedom, 81 Harv. L. Rev. 1045, 1051-1055 (1968).

    73

    [14] The case involved a conviction for teaching "the subject of reading in the German language" to a child of 10 years.

    74

    [15] Former Dean Leflar of the University of Arkansas School of Law has stated that "the same ideological considerations underlie the anti-evolution enactment" as underlie the typical blasphemy statute. He says that the purpose of these statutes is an "ideological" one which "involves an effort to prevent (by censorship) or punish the presentation of intellectually significant matter which contradicts accepted social, moral or religious ideas." Leflar, Legal Liability for the Exercise of Free Speech, 10 Ark. L. Rev. 155, 158 (1956). See also R. Hofstadter & W. Metzger, The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States 320-366 (1955) (passim); H. Beale, A History of Freedom of Teaching in American Schools 202-207 (1941); Emerson & Haber, The Scopes Case in Modern Dress, 27 U. Chi. L. Rev. 522 (1960); Waller, The Constitutionality of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, 35 Yale L. J. 191 (1925) (passim); ACLU, The Gag on Teaching 7 (2d ed., 1937); J. Scopes & J. Presley, Center of the Storm 45-53 (1967).

    75

    [16]The following advertisement is typical of the public appeal which was used in the campaign to secure adoption of the statute:

    76

    "THE BIBLE OR ATHEISM, WHICH?

    "All atheists favor evolution. If you agree with atheism vote against Act No. 1. If you agree with the Bible vote for Act No. 1. . . . Shall conscientious church members be forced to pay taxes to support teachers to teach evolution which will undermine the faith of their children? The Gazette said Russian Bolshevists laughed at Tennessee. True, and that sort will laugh at Arkansas. Who cares? Vote FOR ACT NO. 1." The Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Nov. 4, 1928, p. 12, cols. 4-5.

    77

    Letters from the public expressed the fear that teaching of evolution would be "subversive of Christianity," id., Oct. 24, 1928, p. 7, col. 2; see also id., Nov. 4, 1928, p. 19, col. 4; and that it would cause school children "to disrespect the Bible," id., Oct. 27, 1928, p. 15, col. 5. One letter read: "The cosmogony taught by [evolution] runs contrary to that of Moses and Jesus, and as such is nothing, if anything at all, but atheism. . . . Now let the mothers and fathers of our state that are trying to raise their children in the Christian faith arise in their might and vote for this anti-evolution bill that will take it out of our tax supported schools. When they have saved the children, they have saved the state." Id., at cols. 4-5.

    78

    [17] Arkansas' law was adopted by popular initiative in 1928, three years after Tennessee's law was enacted and one year after the Tennessee Supreme Court's decision in the Scopes case, supra.

    79

    [18] In its brief, the State says that the Arkansas statute was passed with the holding of the Scopes case in mind. Brief for Appellee 1.

    80

    [19] Short of reading the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion to have proceeded on the premise that it need not consider appellants' "establishment" contention, clearly raised in the state courts and here, in view of its holding that the State possesses plenary power to fix the curriculum in its public schools, I can perceive no tenable basis for remanding the case to the state court for an explication of the purpose and meaning of the statute in question. I am unwilling to ascribe to the Arkansas Supreme Court any such quixotic approach to constitutional adjudication. I take the first sentence of its opinion (ante, at 101, n. 7) to encompass an overruling of appellants' "establishment" point, and the second sentence to refer only to their "vagueness" claim. 

  • 6 Edwards v. Aguillard

    1
    482 U.S. 578 (1987)
    2
    EDWARDS, GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA, ET AL.
    v.
    AGUILLARD ET AL.
    3
    No. 85-1513.
    Supreme Court of United States.
    4
    Argued December 10, 1986
    5
    Decided June 19, 1987
    6
    APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
    7

    [579] Wendell R. Bird, Special Assistant Attorney General of Georgia, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were A. Morgan Brian, Jr., and Thomas T. Anderson, Special Assistant Attorneys General, Kendall L. Vick, and [580] Patricia Nalley Bowers, Assistant Attorney General of Louisiana.

    8

    Jay Topkis argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was John DiGiulio, Samuel I. Rosenberg, Allen Blumstein, Gerard E. Harper, Jack D. Novik, Burt Neuborne, Norman Dorsen, John Sexton, and Ron Wilson.[1]

    9

    Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of New York et al. by Robert Abrams, Attorney General of New York, O. Peter Sherwood, Solicitor General, Paul M. Glickman, Jane Levine, Suzanne Lynn, and Marla Tepper, Assistant Attorneys General, and Neil F. Hartigan, Attorney General of Illinois; for the American Association of University Professors et al. by Ann H. Franke, Jacqueline W. Mintz, and Sheldon E. Steinbach; for the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, by Bruce A. Miller and Stuart M. Israel; for the American Jewish Congress et al. by Marvin E. Frankel, Marc D. Stern, and Ronald A. Krauss; for Americans United for Separation of Church and State et al. by Lee Boothby, Samuel Rabinove, Richard T. Foltin, and James M. Parker; for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith et al. by Ruti G. Teitel, Justin J. Finger, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, and Steven M. Freeman; for the National Academy of Sciences by Barry H. Garfinkel and Mark Herlihy; for the New York Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty by Leo Pfeffer; for People for the American Way et al. by Timothy B. Dyk, A. Douglas Melamed, and Kerry W. Kircher; for the Spartacist League et al. by Rachel H. Wolkenstein; and for 72 Nobel Laureates et al. by Walter B. Slocombe.

    10

    Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the Rabbinical Alliance of America et al. by John W. Whitehead and Larry L. Crain; and for Reverend Bill McLean et al. by Philip E. Kaplan.

    11
    JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.[2]
    12

    The question for decision is whether Louisiana's "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction" Act (Creationism Act), La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 17:286.1-17:286.7 (West 1982), is facially invalid [581] as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

    13
    I
    14

    The Creationism Act forbids the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools unless accompanied by instruction in "creation science." § 17:286.4A. No school is required to teach evolution or creation science. If either is taught, however, the other must also be taught. Ibid. The theories of evolution and creation science are statutorily defined as "the scientific evidences for [creation or evolution] and inferences from those scientific evidences." §§ 17.286.3(2) and (3).

    15

    Appellees, who include parents of children attending Louisiana public schools, Louisiana teachers, and religious leaders, challenged the constitutionality of the Act in District Court, seeking an injunction and declaratory relief.[3] Appellants, Louisiana officials charged with implementing the Act, defended on the ground that the purpose of the Act is to protect a legitimate secular interest, namely, academic freedom.[4] Appellees attacked the Act as facially invalid because [582] it violated the Establishment Clause and made a motion for summary judgment. The District Court granted the motion. Aguillard v. Treen, 634 F. Supp. 426 (ED La. 1985). The court held that there can be no valid secular reason for prohibiting the teaching of evolution, a theory historically opposed by some religious denominations. The court further concluded that "the teaching of `creation-science' and `creationism,' as contemplated by the statute, involves teaching `tailored to the principles' of a particular religious sect or group of sects." Id., at 427 (citing Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 106 (1968)). The District Court therefore held that the Creationism Act violated the Establishment Clause either because it prohibited the teaching of evolution or because it required the teaching of creation science with the purpose of advancing a particular religious doctrine.

    16

    The Court of Appeals affirmed. 765 F. 2d 1251 (CA5 1985). The court observed that the statute's avowed purpose of protecting academic freedom was inconsistent with requiring, upon risk of sanction, the teaching of creation science whenever evolution is taught. Id., at 1257. The court found that the Louisiana Legislature's actual intent was "to discredit evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism, a religious belief." Ibid. Because the Creationism Act was thus a law furthering a particular religious belief, the Court of Appeals held that the Act violated the Establishment Clause. A suggestion for rehearing en banc was denied over a dissent. 778 F. 2d 225 (CA5 1985). We noted probable jurisdiction, 476 U. S. 1103 (1986), and now affirm.

    17
    II
    18

    The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law "respecting an establishment of religion."[5] The Court [583] has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612-613 (1971).[6] State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs.

    19

    In this case, the Court must determine whether the Establishment Clause was violated in the special context of the public elementary and secondary school system. States and local school boards are generally afforded considerable discretion in operating public schools. See Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U. S. 675, 683 (1986); id., at 687 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in judgment); Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U. S. 503, 507 (1969). "At the same time . . . we have necessarily recognized that the discretion of the States and local school boards in matters of education must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment." Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U. S. 853, 864 (1982).

    20

    The Court has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and [584] secondary schools. Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family. Students in such institutions are impressionable and their attendance is involuntary. See, e. g., Grand Rapids School Dist. v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 383 (1985); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 60, n. 51 (1985); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349, 369 (1975); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 252-253 (1963) (BRENNAN, J., concurring). The State exerts great authority and coercive power through mandatory attendance requirements, and because of the students' emulation of teachers as role models and the children's susceptibility to peer pressure.[7] See Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, supra, at 683; Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 81 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). Furthermore, "[t]he public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools . . . ." Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203, 231 (1948) (opinion of Frankfurter, J.).

    21

    Consequently, the Court has been required often to invalidate statutes which advance religion in public elementary and secondary schools. See, e. g., Grand Rapids School Dist. v. Ball, supra (school district's use of religious school teachers in public schools); Wallace v. Jaffree, supra (Alabama statute authorizing moment of silence for school prayer); Stone v. [585] Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (posting copy of Ten Commandments on public classroom wall); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968) (statute forbidding teaching of evolution); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, supra (daily reading of Bible); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 430 (1962) (recitation of "denominationally neutral" prayer).

    22

    Therefore, in employing the three-pronged Lemon test, we must do so mindful of the particular concerns that arise in the context of public elementary and secondary schools. We now turn to the evaluation of the Act under the Lemon test.

    23
    III
    24

    Lemon's first prong focuses on the purpose that animated adoption of the Act. "The purpose prong of the Lemon test asks whether government's actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 690 (1984) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring). A governmental intention to promote religion is clear when the State enacts a law to serve a religious purpose. This intention may be evidenced by promotion of religion in general, see Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 52-53 (Establishment Clause protects individual freedom of conscience "to select any religious faith or none at all"), or by advancement of a particular religious belief, e. g., Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41 (invalidating requirement to post Ten Commandments, which are "undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths") (footnote omitted); Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, at 106 (holding that banning the teaching of evolution in public schools violates the First Amendment since "teaching and learning" must not "be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma"). If the law was enacted for the purpose of endorsing religion, "no consideration of the second or third criteria [of Lemon] is necessary." Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 56. In this case, appellants have identified no clear secular purpose for the Louisiana Act.

    25

    [586] True, the Act's stated purpose is to protect academic freedom. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.2 (West 1982). This phrase might, in common parlance, be understood as referring to enhancing the freedom of teachers to teach what they will. The Court of Appeals, however, correctly concluded that the Act was not designed to further that goal.[8] We find no merit in the State's argument that the "legislature may not [have] use[d] the terms `academic freedom' in the correct legal sense. They might have [had] in mind, instead, a basic concept of fairness; teaching all of the evidence." Tr. of Oral Arg. 60. Even if "academic freedom" is read to mean "teaching all of the evidence" with respect to the origin of human beings, the Act does not further this purpose. The goal of providing a more comprehensive science curriculum is not furthered either by outlawing the teaching of evolution or by requiring the teaching of creation science.

    26
    A
    27

    While the Court is normally deferential to a State's articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement [587] of such purpose be sincere and not a sham. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 64 (POWELL, J., concurring); id., at 75 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment); Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41; Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S., at 223-224. As JUSTICE O'CONNOR stated in Wallace: "It is not a trivial matter, however, to require that the legislature manifest a secular purpose and omit all sectarian endorsements from its laws. That requirement is precisely tailored to the Establishment Clause's purpose of assuring that Government not intentionally endorse religion or a religious practice." 472 U. S., at 75 (concurring in judgment).

    28

    It is clear from the legislative history that the purpose of the legislative sponsor, Senator Bill Keith, was to narrow the science curriculum. During the legislative hearings, Senator Keith stated: "My preference would be that neither [creationism nor evolution] be taught." 2 App. E-621. Such a ban on teaching does not promote — indeed, it undermines — the provision of a comprehensive scientific education.

    29

    It is equally clear that requiring schools to teach creation science with evolution does not advance academic freedom. The Act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found that no law prohibited Louisiana public school teachers from teaching any scientific theory. 765 F. 2d, at 1257. As the president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association testified, "[a]ny scientific concept that's based on established fact can be included in our curriculum already, and no legislation allowing this is necessary." 2 App. E-616. The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it.

    30

    The Alabama statute held unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, is analogous. In Wallace, the State characterized its new law as one designed to provide a 1-minute period for meditation. We rejected that stated purpose as insufficient, [588] because a previously adopted Alabama law already provided for such a 1-minute period. Thus, in this case, as in Wallace, "[a]ppellants have not identified any secular purpose that was not fully served by [existing state law] before the enactment of [the statute in question]." 472 U. S., at 59.

    31

    Furthermore, the goal of basic "fairness" is hardly furthered by the Act's discriminatory preference for the teaching of creation science and against the teaching of evolution.[9] While requiring that curriculum guides be developed for creation science, the Act says nothing of comparable guides for evolution. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.7A (West 1982). Similarly, resource services are supplied for creation science but not for evolution. § 17:286.7B. Only "creation scientists" can serve on the panel that supplies the resource services. Ibid. The Act forbids school boards to discriminate against anyone who "chooses to be a creation-scientist" or to teach "creationism," but fails to protect those who choose to teach evolution or any other noncreation science theory, or who refuse to teach creation science. § 17:286.4C.

    32

    If the Louisiana Legislature's purpose was solely to maximize the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of science instruction, it would have encouraged the teaching of all scientific theories about the origins of humankind.[10] But under [589] the Act's requirements, teachers who were once free to teach any and all facets of this subject are now unable to do so. Moreover, the Act fails even to ensure that creation science will be taught, but instead requires the teaching of this theory only when the theory of evolution is taught. Thus we agree with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the Act does not serve to protect academic freedom, but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting "evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism . . . ." 765 F. 2d, at 1257.

    33
    B
    34

    Stone v. Graham invalidated the State's requirement that the Ten Commandments be posted in public classrooms. "The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact." 449 U. S., at 41 (footnote omitted). As a result, the contention that the law was designed to provide instruction on a "fundamental legal code" was "not sufficient to avoid conflict with the First Amendment." Ibid. Similarly Abington School Dist. v. Schempp held unconstitutional a statute "requiring the selection and reading at the opening of the school day of verses from the Holy Bible and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer by the students in unison," despite the proffer of such secular purposes as the "promotion of moral values, the contradiction [590] to the materialistic trends of our times, the perpetuation of our institutions and the teaching of literature." 374 U.S., at 223.

    35

    As in Stone and Abington, we need not be blind in this case to the legislature's preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute. There is a historic and contemporaneous link between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution.[11] It was this link that concerned the Court in Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968), which also involved a facial challenge to a statute regulating the teaching of evolution. In that case, the Court reviewed an Arkansas statute that made it unlawful for an instructor to teach evolution or to use a textbook that referred to this scientific theory. Although the Arkansas antievolution law did not explicitly state its predominate religious purpose, the Court could not ignore that "[t]he statute was a product of the upsurge of `fundamentalist' religious fervor" that has long viewed this particular scientific theory as contradicting the literal interpretation of the Bible. Id., at 98, 106-107.[12] After reviewing the history of antievolution statutes, the Court determined that "there can be no doubt that the motivation for the [Arkansas] law was the same [as other antievolution statutes]: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, `denied' the divine creation of man." Id., at 109. The Court found that there can be no legitimate [591] state interest in protecting particular religions from scientific views "distasteful to them," id., at 107 (citation omitted), and concluded "that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma," id., at 106.

    36

    These same historic and contemporaneous antagonisms between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution are present in this case. The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind.[13] The term "creation science" was defined as embracing this particular religious doctrine by those responsible for the passage of the Creationism Act. Senator Keith's leading expert on creation science, Edward Boudreaux, testified at the legislative hearings that the theory of creation science included belief in the existence of a supernatural creator. See 1 App. E-421 — E-422 (noting that "creation scientists" point to high probability that life was "created by an intelligent mind").[14] Senator Keith also cited testimony from other experts to support the creation-science view that "a creator [was] responsible for the universe and everything in it."[15] 2 App. E-497. The legislative history [592] therefore reveals that the term "creation science," as contemplated by the legislature that adopted this Act, embodies the religious belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind.

    37

    Furthermore, it is not happenstance that the legislature required the teaching of a theory that coincided with this religious view. The legislative history documents that the Act's primary purpose was to change the science curriculum of public schools in order to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety. The sponsor of the Creationism Act, Senator Keith, explained during the legislative hearings that his disdain for the theory of evolution resulted from the support that evolution supplied to views contrary to his own religious beliefs. According to Senator Keith, the theory of evolution was consonant with the "cardinal principle[s] of religious humanism, secular humanism, theological liberalism, aetheistism [sic]." 1 App. E-312-E-313; see also 2 App. E-499-E-500. The state senator repeatedly stated that scientific evidence supporting his religious views should be included in the public school curriculum to redress the fact that the theory of evolution incidentally coincided with what he characterized as religious beliefs antithetical to his own.[16] [593] The legislation therefore sought to alter the science curriculum to reflect endorsement of a religious view that is antagonistic to the theory of evolution.

    38

    In this case, the purpose of the Creationism Act was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint. Out of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects. As in Epperson, the legislature passed the Act to give preference to those religious groups which have as one of their tenets the creation of humankind by a divine creator. The "overriding fact" that confronted the Court in Epperson was "that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with . . . a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group." 393 U. S., at 103. Similarly, the Creationism Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science which embodies a particular religious tenet by requiring that creation science be taught whenever evolution is taught or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects by forbidding the teaching of evolution when creation science is not also taught. The Establishment Clause, however, "forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition of theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma." Id., at 106-107 (emphasis added). Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the Act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment.

    39

    We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone that its decision [594] forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. 449 U. S., at 42. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.[17]

    40
    IV
    41

    Appellants contend that genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute, and therefore the District Court erred in granting summary judgment. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." A court's finding of improper purpose behind a statute is appropriately determined by the statute on its face, its legislative history, or its interpretation by a responsible administrative agency. See, e. g., Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 56-61; Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S., at 41-42; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S., at 103-109. The plain meaning of the statute's words, enlightened by their context and the contemporaneous legislative history, can control the determination of legislative purpose. See Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 74 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment); Richards v. United States, 369 U. S. 1, 9 (1962); Jay [595] v. Boyd, 351 U. S. 345, 357 (1956). Moreover, in determining the legislative purpose of a statute, the Court has also considered the historical context of the statute, e. g., Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, and the specific sequence of events leading to passage of the statute, e. g., Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U. S. 252 (1977).

    42

    In this case, appellees' motion for summary judgment rested on the plain language of the Creationism Act, the legislative history and historical context of the Act, the specific sequence of events leading to the passage of the Act, the State Board's report on a survey of school superintendents, and the correspondence between the Act's legislative sponsor and its key witnesses. Appellants contend that affidavits made by two scientists, two theologians, and an education administrator raise a genuine issue of material fact and that summary judgment was therefore barred. The affidavits define creation science as "origin through abrupt appearance in complex form" and allege that such a viewpoint constitutes a true scientific theory. See App. to Brief for Appellants A-7 to A-40.

    43

    We agree with the lower courts that these affidavits do not raise a genuine issue of material fact. The existence of "uncontroverted affidavits" does not bar summary judgment.[18] Moreover, the postenactment testimony of outside experts is of little use in determining the Louisiana Legislature's purpose in enacting this statute. The Louisiana Legislature did hear and rely on scientific experts in passing the bill,[19] but none of the persons making the affidavits produced by the appellants [596] participated in or contributed to the enactment of the law or its implementation.[20] The District Court, in its discretion, properly concluded that a Monday-morning "battle of the experts" over possible technical meanings of terms in the statute would not illuminate the contemporaneous purpose of the Louisiana Legislature when it made the law.[21] We therefore conclude that the District Court did not err in finding that appellants failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact, and in granting summary judgment.[22]

    44
    V
    45

    The Louisiana Creationism Act advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety. [597A] The Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose. The judgment of the Court of Appeals therefore is

    46

    Affirmed.

    47
    [597B] JUSTICE POWELL, with whom JUSTICE O'CONNOR joins, concurring.
    48

    I write separately to note certain aspects of the legislative history, and to emphasize that nothing in the Court's opinion diminishes the traditionally broad discretion accorded state and local school officials in the selection of the public school curriculum.

    49
    I
    50

    This Court consistently has applied the three-pronged test of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971), to determine whether a particular state action violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.[23] See, e. g., Grand Rapids School Dist. v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 383 (1985) ("We have particularly relied on Lemon in every case involving the sensitive relationship between government and religion in the education of our children"). The first requirement of the Lemon test is that the challenged statute have a "secular legislative purpose." Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 612. See Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 773 (1973). If no valid secular purpose can be identified, then the statute violates the Establishment Clause.

    51
    A
    52

    "The starting point in every case involving construction of a statute is the language itself." Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U. S. 723, 756 (1975) (POWELL, J., [598] concurring). The Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act or Balanced Treatment Act), La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.1 et seq. (West 1982), provides in part:

    53
    "[P]ublic schools within [the] state shall give balanced treatment to creation-science and to evolution-science. Balanced treatment of these two models shall be given in classroom lectures taken as a whole for each course, in textbook materials taken as a whole for each course, in library materials taken as a whole for the sciences and taken as a whole for the humanities, and in other educational programs in public schools, to the extent that such lectures, textbooks, library materials, or educational programs deal in any way with the subject of the origin of man, life, the earth, or the universe. When creation or evolution is taught, each shall be taught as a theory, rather than as proven scientific fact." § 17:286.4(A).
    54

    "Balanced treatment" means "providing whatever information and instruction in both creation and evolution models the classroom teacher determines is necessary and appropriate to provide insight into both theories in view of the textbooks and other instructional materials available for use in his classroom." § 17:286.3(1). "Creation-science" is defined as "the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences." § 17:286.3(2). "Evolution-science" means "the scientific evidences for evolution and inferences from those scientific evidences." § 17:286.3(3).

    55

    Although the Act requires the teaching of the scientific evidences of both creation and evolution whenever either is taught, it does not define either term. "A fundamental canon of statutory construction is that, unless otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary, common meaning." Perrin v. United States, 444 U. S. 37, 42 (1979). The "doctrine or theory of creation" is commonly defined as "holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by a transcendent God out [599] of nothing." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 532 (unabridged 1981). "Evolution" is defined as "the theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types, the distinguishable differences being due to modifications in successive generations." Id., at 789. Thus, the Balanced Treatment Act mandates that public schools present the scientific evidence to support a theory of divine creation whenever they present the scientific evidence to support the theory of evolution. "[C]oncepts concerning God or a supreme being of some sort are manifestly religious . . . . These concepts do not shed that religiosity merely because they are presented as a philosophy or as a science." Malnak v. Yogi, 440 F. Supp. 1284, 1322 (NJ 1977), aff'd per curiam, 592 F. 2d 197 (CA3 1979). From the face of the statute, a purpose to advance a religious belief is apparent.

    56

    A religious purpose alone is not enough to invalidate an act of a state legislature. The religious purpose must predominate. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 56 (1985); id., at 64 (POWELL, J., concurring); Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 681, n. 6 (1984). The Act contains a statement of purpose: to "protec[t] academic freedom." § 17:286.2. This statement is puzzling. Of course, the "academic freedom" of teachers to present information in public schools, and students to receive it, is broad. But it necessarily is circumscribed by the Establishment Clause. "Academic freedom" does not encompass the right of a legislature to structure the public school curriculum in order to advance a particular religious belief. Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 106 (1968). Nevertheless, I read this statement in the Act as rendering the purpose of the statute at least ambiguous. Accordingly, I proceed to review the legislative history of the Act.

    57
    B
    58

    In June 1980, Senator Bill Keith introduced Senate Bill 956 in the Louisiana Legislature. The stated purpose of the bill [600] was to "assure academic freedom by requiring the teaching of the theory of creation ex nihilo in all public schools where the theory of evolution is taught." 1 App. E-1.[24] The bill defined the "theory of creation ex nihilo" as "the belief that the origin of the elements, the galaxy, the solar system, of life, of all the species of plants and animals, the origin of man, and the origin of all things and their processes and relationships were created ex nihilo and fixed by God." Id., at E-1a — E-1b. This theory was referred to by Senator Keith as "scientific creationism." Id., at E-2.

    59

    While a Senate committee was studying scientific creationism, Senator Keith introduced a second draft of the bill, requiring balanced treatment of "evolution-science" and "creation-science." Id., at E-108. Although the Keith bill prohibited "instruction in any religious doctrine or materials," id., at E-302, it defined "creation-science" to include

    60
    "the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate (a) sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (b) the insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (c) changes only within fixed limits or originally created kinds of plants and animals; (d) separate ancestry for man and apes; (e) explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (f) a [601] relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds." Id., at E-298 — E-299.
    61

    Significantly, the model Act on which the Keith bill relied was also the basis for a similar statute in Arkansas. See McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255 (ED Ark. 1982). The District Court in McLean carefully examined this model Act, particularly the section defining creation science, and concluded that "[b]oth [its] concepts and wording . . . convey an inescapable religiosity." Id., at 1265. The court found that "[t]he ideas of [this section] are not merely similar to the literal interpretation of Genesis; they are identical and parallel to no other story of creation." Ibid.

    62

    The complaint in McLean was filed on May 27, 1981. On May 28, the Louisiana Senate committee amended the Keith bill to delete the illustrative list of scientific evidences. According to the legislator who proposed the amendment, it was "not intended to try to gut [the bill] in any way, or defeat the purpose [for] which Senator Keith introduced [it]," 1 App. E-432, and was not viewed as working "any violence to the bill." Id., at E-438. Instead, the concern was "whether this should be an all inclusive list." Ibid.

    63

    The legislature then held hearings on the amended bill that became the Balanced Treatment Act under review. The principal creation scientist to testify in support of the Act was Dr. Edward Boudreaux. He did not elaborate on the nature of creation science except to indicate that the "scientific evidences" of the theory are "the objective information of science [that] point[s] to conditions of a creator." 2 id., at E-501 — E-502. He further testified that the recognized creation scientists in the United States, who "numbe[r] something like a thousand [and] who hold doctorate and masters degrees in all areas of science," are affiliated with either or both the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society. Id., at E-503 — E-504. Information on both of these organizations is part of the legislative history, [602] and a review of their goals and activities sheds light on the nature of creation science as it was presented to, and understood by, the Louisiana Legislature.

    64

    The Institute for Creation Research is an affiliate of the Christian Heritage College in San Diego, California. The Institute was established to address the "urgent need for our nation to return to belief in a personal, omnipotent Creator, who has a purpose for His creation and to whom all people must eventually give account." 1 id., at E-197. A goal of the Institute is "a revival of belief in special creation as the true explanation of the origin of the world." Therefore, the Institute currently is working on the "development of new methods for teaching scientific creationism in public schools." Id., at E-197 — E-199. The Creation Research Society (CRS) is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A member must subscribe to the following statement of belief: "The Bible is the written word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true." 2 id., at E-583. To study creation science at the CRS, a member must accept "that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truth." Ibid.[25]

    65

    [603] When, as here, "both courts below are unable to discern an arguably valid secular purpose, this Court normally should hesitate to find one." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 66 (POWELL, J., concurring). My examination of the language and the legislative history of the Balanced Treatment Act confirms that the intent of the Louisiana Legislature was to promote a particular religious belief. The legislative history of the Arkansas statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution examined in Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968), was strikingly similar to the legislative history of the Balanced Treatment Act. In Epperson, the Court found:

    66
    "It is clear that fundamentalist sectarian conviction was and is the law's reason for existence. Its antecedent, Tennessee's `monkey law,' candidly stated its purpose: to make it unlawful `to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.' Perhaps the sensational publicity attendant upon the Scopes trial induced Arkansas to adopt less explicit language. It eliminated Tennessee's reference to `the story of the Divine creation of man' as taught in the Bible, but there is no doubt that the motivation for the law was the same: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, `denied' the divine creation of man." Id., at 107-109 (footnotes omitted).
    67

    Here, it is clear that religious belief is the Balanced Treatment Act's "reason for existence." The tenets of creation science parallel the Genesis story of creation,[26] and this is a [604] religious belief. "[N]o legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact." Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39, 41 (1980). Although the Act as finally enacted does not contain explicit reference to its religious purpose, there is no indication in the legislative history that the deletion of "creation ex nihilo" and the four primary tenets of the theory was intended to alter the purpose of teaching creation science. Instead, the statements of purpose of the sources of creation science in the United States make clear that their purpose is to promote a religious belief. I find no persuasive evidence in the legislative history that the legislature's purpose was any different. The fact that the Louisiana Legislature purported to add information to the school curriculum rather than detract from it as in Epperson does not affect my analysis. Both legislatures acted with the unconstitutional purpose of structuring the public school curriculum to make it compatible with a particular religious belief: the "divine creation of man."

    68

    That the statute is limited to the scientific evidences supporting the theory does not render its purpose secular. In reaching its conclusion that the Act is unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals "[did] not deny that the underpinnings of creationism may be supported by scientific evidence." 765 F. 2d 1251, 1256 (1985). And there is no need to do so. Whatever the academic merit of particular subjects or theories, the Establishment Clause limits the discretion of state officials to pick and choose among them for the purpose of promoting a particular religious belief. The language of the statute and its legislative history convince me that the Louisiana Legislature exercised its discretion for this purpose in this case.

    69
    [605] II
    70

    Even though I find Louisiana's Balanced Treatment Act unconstitutional, I adhere to the view "that the States and locally elected school boards should have the responsibility for determining the educational policy of the public schools." Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U. S. 853, 893 (1982) (POWELL, J., dissenting). A decision respecting the subject matter to be taught in public schools does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because the material to be taught " `happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.' " Harris v. McRae, 448 U. S. 297, 319 (1980) (quoting McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 442 (1961)). In the context of a challenge under the Establishment Clause, interference with the decisions of these authorities is warranted only when the purpose for their decisions is clearly religious.

    71

    The history of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment has been chronicled by this Court in detail. See, e. g., Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1, 8-14 (1947); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 425-430 (1962); McGowan v. Maryland, supra, at 437-442. Therefore, only a brief review at this point may be appropriate. The early settlers came to this country from Europe to escape religious persecution that took the form of forced support of state-established churches. The new Americans thus reacted strongly when they perceived the same type of religious intolerance emerging in this country. The reaction in Virginia, the home of many of the Founding Fathers, is instructive. George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted by the House of Burgesses in 1776. Because of James Madison's influence, the Declaration of Rights embodied the guarantee of free exercise of religion, as opposed to toleration. Eight years later, a provision prohibiting the establishment of religion became a part of Virginia law when James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious [606] Assessments, written in response to a proposal that all Virginia citizens be taxed to support the teaching of the Christian religion, spurred the legislature to consider and adopt Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. See Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 770, n. 28. Both the guarantees of free exercise and against the establishment of religion were then incorporated into the Federal Bill of Rights by its drafter, James Madison.

    72

    While the "meaning and scope of the First Amendment" must be read "in light of its history and the evils it was designed forever to suppress," Everson v. Board of Education, supra, at 14-15, this Court has also recognized that "this Nation's history has not been one of entirely sanitized separation between Church and State." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 760. "The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself." Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 213 (1963).[27] The Court properly has noted "an unbroken history of official acknowledgment . . . of the role of religion in American life." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 674, and has recognized that these references to "our religious heritage" are constitutionally acceptable. Id., at 677.

    73

    As a matter of history, schoolchildren can and should properly be informed of all aspects of this Nation's religious heritage. I would see no constitutional problem if schoolchildren were taught the nature of the Founding Father's religious beliefs and how these beliefs affected the attitudes [607] of the times and the structure of our government.[28] Courses in comparative religion of course are customary and constitutionally appropriate.[29] In fact, since religion permeates our history, a familiarity with the nature of religious beliefs is necessary to understand many historical as well as contemporary events.[30] In addition, it is worth noting that the Establishment [608] Clause does not prohibit per se the educational use of religious documents in public school education. Although this Court has recognized that the Bible is "an instrument of religion," Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 224, it also has made clear that the Bible "may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like." Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S., at 42 (citing Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 225). The book is, in fact, "the world's all-time best seller"[31] with undoubted literary and historic value apart from its religious content. The Establishment Clause is properly understood to prohibit the use of the Bible and other religious documents in public school education only when the purpose of the use is to advance a particular religious belief.

    74
    III
    75

    In sum, I find that the language and the legislative history of the Balanced Treatment Act unquestionably demonstrate that its purpose is to advance a particular religious belief. Although the discretion of state and local authorities over public school curricula is broad, "the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma." Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S., at 106. Accordingly, I concur in the opinion of the Court and its judgment that the Balanced Treatment Act violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

    76
    JUSTICE WHITE, concurring in the judgment.
    77

    As it comes to us, this is not a difficult case. Based on the historical setting and plain language of the Act both courts construed the statutory words "creation science" to refer to a religious belief, which the Act required to be taught if evolution [609] was taught. In other words, the teaching of evolution was conditioned on the teaching of a religious belief. Both courts concluded that the state legislature's primary purpose was to advance religion and that the statute was therefore unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

    78

    We usually defer to courts of appeals on the meaning of a state statute, especially when a district court has the same view. Of course, we have the power to disagree, and the lower courts in a particular case may be plainly wrong. But if the meaning ascribed to a state statute by a court of appeals is a rational construction of the statute, we normally accept it. Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc., 472 U. S. 491, 499-500 (1985); Chardon v. Fumero Soto, 462 U. S. 650, 654-655, n. 5 (1983); Haring v. Prosise, 462 U. S. 306, 314, n. 8 (1983); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547, 558, n. 12 (1967); General Box Co. v. United States, 351 U. S. 159, 165 (1956). We do so because we believe "that district courts and courts of appeals are better schooled in and more able to interpret the laws of their respective States." Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, supra, at 500. Brockett also indicates that the usual rule applies in First Amendment cases.

    79

    Here, the District Judge, relying on the terms of the Act, discerned its purpose to be the furtherance of a religious belief, and a panel of the Court of Appeals agreed. Of those four judges, two are Louisianians. I would accept this view of the statute. Even if as an original matter I might have arrived at a different conclusion based on a reading of the statute and the record before us, I cannot say that the two courts below are so plainly wrong that they should be reversed. Rehearing en banc was denied by an 8-7 vote, the dissenters expressing their disagreement with the panel decision. The disagreement, however, was over the construction of the Louisiana statute, particularly the assessment of its purpose, and offers no justification for departing from the usual rule counseling against de novo constructions of state statutes.

    80

    [610A] If the Court of Appeals' construction is to be accepted, so is its conclusion that under our prior cases the Balanced Treatment Act is unconstitutional because its primary purpose is to further a religious belief by imposing certain requirements on the school curriculum. Unless, therefore, we are to reconsider the Court's decisions interpreting the Establishment Clause, I agree that the judgment of the Court of Appeals must be affirmed.

    81
    [610B] JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.
    82

    Even if I agreed with the questionable premise that legislation can be invalidated under the Establishment Clause on the basis of its motivation alone, without regard to its effects, I would still find no justification for today's decision. The Louisiana legislators who passed the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act" (Balanced Treatment Act), La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 17:286.1-17:286.7 (West 1982), each of whom had sworn to support the Constitution,[32] were well aware of the potential Establishment Clause problems and considered that aspect of the legislation with great care. After seven hearings and several months of study, resulting in substantial revision of the original proposal, they approved the Act overwhelmingly and specifically articulated the secular purpose they meant it to serve. Although the record contains abundant evidence of the sincerity of that purpose (the only issue pertinent to this case), the Court today holds, essentially on the basis of "its visceral knowledge regarding what must have motivated the legislators," 778 F. 2d 225, 227 (CA5 1985) (Gee, J., dissenting) (emphasis added), that the members of the Louisiana Legislature knowingly violated their oaths and then lied about it. I dissent. Had requirements of the Balanced Treatment Act that [611] are not apparent on its face been clarified by an interpretation of the Louisiana Supreme Court, or by the manner of its implementation, the Act might well be found unconstitutional; but the question of its constitutionality cannot rightly be disposed of on the gallop, by impugning the motives of its supporters.

    83
    I
    84

    This case arrives here in the following posture: The Louisiana Supreme Court has never been given an opportunity to interpret the Balanced Treatment Act, State officials have never attempted to implement it, and it has never been the subject of a full evidentiary hearing. We can only guess at its meaning. We know that it forbids instruction in either "creation-science" or "evolution-science" without instruction in the other, § 17:286.4A, but the parties are sharply divided over what creation science consists of. Appellants insist that it is a collection of educationally valuable scientific data that has been censored from classrooms by an embarrassed scientific establishment. Appellees insist it is not science at all but thinly veiled religious doctrine. Both interpretations of the intended meaning of that phrase find considerable support in the legislative history.

    85

    At least at this stage in the litigation, it is plain to me that we must accept appellants' view of what the statute means. To begin with, the statute itself defines "creation-science" as "the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences." § 17:286.3(2) (emphasis added). If, however, that definition is not thought sufficiently helpful, the means by which the Louisiana Supreme Court will give the term more precise content is quite clear — and again, at this stage in the litigation, favors the appellants' view. "Creation science" is unquestionably a "term of art," see Brief for 72 Nobel Laureates et al. as Amici Curiae 20, and thus, under Louisiana law, is "to be interpreted according to [its] received meaning and acceptation with the learned in the art, trade or profession to which [it] refer[s]." La. Civ. [612] Code Ann., Art. 15 (West 1952).[33] The only evidence in the record of the "received meaning and acceptation" of "creation science" is found in five affidavits filed by appellants. In those affidavits, two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, all of whom claim extensive knowledge of creation science, swear that it is essentially a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that the physical universe and life within it appeared suddenly and have not changed substantially since appearing. See App. to Juris. Statement A-19 (Kenyon); id., at A-36 (Morrow); id., at A-41 (Miethe). These experts insist that creation science is a strictly scientific concept that can be presented without religious reference. See id., at A-19 — A-20, A-35 (Kenyon); id., at A-36 — A-38 (Morrow); id., at A-40, A-41, A-43 (Miethe); id., at A-47, A-48 (Most); id., at A-49 (Clinkert). At this point, then, we must assume that the Balanced Treatment Act does not require the presentation of religious doctrine.

    86

    Nothing in today's opinion is plainly to the contrary, but what the statute means and what it requires are of rather little concern to the Court. Like the Court of Appeals, 765 F. 2d 1251, 1253, 1254 (CA5 1985), the Court finds it necessary to consider only the motives of the legislators who supported the Balanced Treatment Act, ante, at 586, 593-594, 596. After examining the statute, its legislative history, and its historical and social context, the Court holds that the Louisiana Legislature acted without "a secular legislative purpose" and that the Act therefore fails the "purpose" prong of the three-part test set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612 (1971). As I explain below, infra, at 636-640, [613] I doubt whether that "purpose" requirement of Lemon is a proper interpretation of the Constitution; but even if it were, I could not agree with the Court's assessment that the requirement was not satisfied here.

    87

    This Court has said little about the first component of the Lemon test. Almost invariably, we have effortlessly discovered a secular purpose for measures challenged under the Establishment Clause, typically devoting no more than a sentence or two to the matter. See, e. g., Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, 474 U. S. 481, 485-486 (1986); Grand Rapids School District v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 383 (1985); Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S. 388, 394-395 (1983); Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116, 123-124 (1982); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 271 (1981); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 654, 657 (1980); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229, 236 (1977) (plurality opinion); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349, 363 (1975); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 773 (1973); Levitt v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty, 413 U. S. 472, 479-480, n. 7 (1973); Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S. 672, 678-679 (1971) (plurality opinion); Lemon v. Kurtzman, supra, at 613. In fact, only once before deciding Lemon, and twice since, have we invalidated a law for lack of a secular purpose. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38 (1985); Stone v. Graham, 449 U. S. 39 (1980) (per curiam); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968).

    88

    Nevertheless, a few principles have emerged from our cases, principles which should, but to an unfortunately large extent do not, guide the Court's application of Lemon today. It is clear, first of all, that regardless of what "legislative purpose" may mean in other contexts, for the purpose of the Lemon test it means the "actual" motives of those responsible for the challenged action. The Court recognizes this, see ante, at 585, as it has in the past, see, e. g., Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, supra, at 486; Wallace v. [614] Jaffree, supra, at 56. Thus, if those legislators who supported the Balanced Treatment Act in fact acted with a "sincere" secular purpose, ante, at 587, the Act survives the first component of the Lemon test, regardless of whether that purpose is likely to be achieved by the provisions they enacted.

    89

    Our cases have also confirmed that when the Lemon Court referred to "a secular . . . purpose," 403 U. S., at 612, it meant "a secular purpose." The author of Lemon, writing for the Court, has said that invalidation under the purpose prong is appropriate when "there [is] no question that the statute or activity was motivated wholly by religious considerations." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S. 668, 680 (1984) (Burger, C. J.) (emphasis added); see also id., at 681, n. 6; Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 56 ("[T]he First Amendment requires that a statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion") (emphasis added; footnote omitted). In all three cases in which we struck down laws under the Establishment Clause for lack of a secular purpose, we found that the legislature's sole motive was to promote religion. See Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 56, 57, 60; Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41, 43, n. 5; Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, at 103, 107-108; see also Lynch v. Donnelly, supra, at 680 (describing Stone and Epperson as cases in which we invalidated laws "motivated wholly by religious considerations"). Thus, the majority's invalidation of the Balanced Treatment Act is defensible only if the record indicates that the Louisiana Legislature had no secular purpose.

    90

    It is important to stress that the purpose forbidden by Lemon is the purpose to "advance religion." 403 U. S., at 613; accord, ante, at 585 ("promote" religion); Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for Blind, supra, at 486 ("endorse religion"); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 56 ("advance religion"); ibid. ("endorse . . . religion"); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 788 ("`advancing' . . . religion"); Levitt v. Committee for [615] Public Education & Religious Liberty, supra, at 481 ("advancing religion"); Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, 397 U. S. 664, 674 (1970) ("establishing, sponsoring, or supporting religion"); Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U. S. 236, 243 (1968) (" `advancement or inhibition of religion' ") (quoting Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 222 (1963)). Our cases in no way imply that the Establishment Clause forbids legislators merely to act upon their religious convictions. We surely would not strike down a law providing money to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless if it could be demonstrated that, but for the religious beliefs of the legislators, the funds would not have been approved. Also, political activism by the religiously motivated is part of our heritage. Notwithstanding the majority's implication to the contrary, ante, at 589-591, we do not presume that the sole purpose of a law is to advance religion merely because it was supported strongly by organized religions or by adherents of particular faiths. See Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 670; cf. Harris v. McRae, 448 U. S. 297, 319-320 (1980). To do so would deprive religious men and women of their right to participate in the political process. Today's religious activism may give us the Balanced Treatment Act, but yesterday's resulted in the abolition of slavery, and tomorrow's may bring relief for famine victims.

    91

    Similarly, we will not presume that a law's purpose is to advance religion merely because it " `happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions,' " Harris v. McRae, supra, at 319 (quoting McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 442 (1961)), or because it benefits religion, even substantially. We have, for example, turned back Establishment Clause challenges to restrictions on abortion funding, Harris v. McRae, supra, and to Sunday closing laws, McGowan v. Maryland, supra, despite the fact that both "agre[e] with the dictates of [some] Judaeo-Christian religions," id., at 442. "In many instances, the Congress or state legislatures conclude that the general welfare of society, [616] wholly apart from any religious considerations, demands such regulation." Ibid. On many past occasions we have had no difficulty finding a secular purpose for governmental action far more likely to advance religion than the Balanced Treatment Act. See, e. g., Mueller v. Allen, 463 U. S., at 394-395 (tax deduction for expenses of religious education); Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S., at 236 (plurality opinion) (aid to religious schools); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S., at 363 (same); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 773 (same); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S., at 613 (same); Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 672 (tax exemption for church property); Board of Education v. Allen, supra, at 243 (textbook loans to students in religious schools). Thus, the fact that creation science coincides with the beliefs of certain religions, a fact upon which the majority relies heavily, does not itself justify invalidation of the Act.

    92

    Finally, our cases indicate that even certain kinds of governmental actions undertaken with the specific intention of improving the position of religion do not "advance religion" as that term is used in Lemon. 403 U. S., at 613. Rather, we have said that in at least two circumstances government must act to advance religion, and that in a third it may do so.

    93

    First, since we have consistently described the Establishment Clause as forbidding not only state action motivated by the desire to advance religion, but also that intended to "disapprove," "inhibit," or evince "hostility" toward religion, see, e. g., ante, at 585 (" `disapprove' ") (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, supra, at 690 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring)); Lynch v. Donnelly, supra, at 673 ("hostility"); Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 788 (" `inhibi[t]' "); and since we have said that governmental "neutrality" toward religion is the preeminent goal of the First Amendment, see, e. g., Grand Rapids School District v. Ball, 473 U. S., at 382; Roemer v. Maryland Public Works Bd., 426 U. S. 736, 747 (1976) (plurality opinion); [617] Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, supra, at 792-793; a State which discovers that its employees are inhibiting religion must take steps to prevent them from doing so, even though its purpose would clearly be to advance religion. Cf. Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 673. Thus, if the Louisiana Legislature sincerely believed that the State's science teachers were being hostile to religion, our cases indicate that it could act to eliminate that hostility without running afoul of Lemon's purpose test.

    94

    Second, we have held that intentional governmental advancement of religion is sometimes required by the Free Exercise Clause. For example, in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., 480 U. S. 136 (1987); Thomas v. Review Bd., Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U. S. 707 (1981); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U. S. 205 (1972); and Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U. S. 398 (1963), we held that in some circumstances States must accommodate the beliefs of religious citizens by exempting them from generally applicable regulations. We have not yet come close to reconciling Lemon and our Free Exercise cases, and typically we do not really try. See, e. g., Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., supra, at 144-145; Thomas v. Review Bd., Indiana Employment Security Div., supra, at 719-720. It is clear, however, that members of the Louisiana Legislature were not impermissibly motivated for purposes of the Lemon test if they believed that approval of the Balanced Treatment Act was required by the Free Exercise Clause.

    95

    We have also held that in some circumstances government may act to accommodate religion, even if that action is not required by the First Amendment. See Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., supra, at 144-145. It is well established that "[t]he limits of permissible state accommodation to religion are by no means co-extensive with the noninterference mandated by the Free Exercise Clause." Walz v. Tax Comm'n of New York City, supra, at 673; [618] see also Gillette v. United States, 401 U. S. 437, 453 (1971). We have implied that voluntary governmental accommodation of religion is not only permissible, but desirable. See, e. g., ibid. Thus, few would contend that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which both forbids religious discrimination by private-sector employers, 78 Stat. 255, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and requires them reasonably to accommodate the religious practices of their employees, § 2000e(j), violates the Establishment Clause, even though its "purpose" is, of course, to advance religion, and even though it is almost certainly not required by the Free Exercise Clause. While we have warned that at some point, accommodation may devolve into "an unlawful fostering of religion," Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm'n of Fla., supra, at 145, we have not suggested precisely (or even roughly) where that point might be. It is possible, then, that even if the sole motive of those voting for the Balanced Treatment Act was to advance religion, and its passage was not actually required, or even believed to be required, by either the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses, the Act would nonetheless survive scrutiny under Lemon's purpose test.

    96

    One final observation about the application of that test: Although the Court's opinion gives no hint of it, in the past we have repeatedly affirmed "our reluctance to attribute unconstitutional motives to the States." Mueller v. Allen, supra, at 394; see also Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U. S., at 699 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). We "presume that legislatures act in a constitutional manner." Illinois v. Krull, 480 U. S. 340, 351 (1987); see also Clements v. Fashing, 457 U. S. 957, 963 (1982) (plurality opinion); Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U. S. 57, 64 (1981); McDonald v. Board of Election Comm'rs of Chicago, 394 U. S. 802, 809 (1969). Whenever we are called upon to judge the constitutionality of an act of a state legislature, "we must have `due regard to the fact that this Court is not exercising a primary judgment but is sitting in judgment [619] upon those who also have taken the oath to observe the Constitution and who have the responsibility for carrying on government.' " Rostker v. Goldberg, supra, at 64 (quoting Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U. S. 123, 164 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring)). This is particularly true, we have said, where the legislature has specifically considered the question of a law's constitutionality. Ibid.

    97

    With the foregoing in mind, I now turn to the purposes underlying adoption of the Balanced Treatment Act.

    98
    II
    99
    A
    100

    We have relatively little information upon which to judge the motives of those who supported the Act. About the only direct evidence is the statute itself and transcripts of the seven committee hearings at which it was considered. Unfortunately, several of those hearings were sparsely attended, and the legislators who were present revealed little about their motives. We have no committee reports, no floor debates, no remarks inserted into the legislative history, no statement from the Governor, and no postenactment statements or testimony from the bill's sponsor or any other legislators. Cf. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 43, 56-57. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that the majority is wrong in holding that the Balanced Treatment Act is without secular purpose.

    101

    At the outset, it is important to note that the Balanced Treatment Act did not fly through the Louisiana Legislature on wings of fundamentalist religious fervor — which would be unlikely, in any event, since only a small minority of the State's citizens belong to fundamentalist religious denominations. See B. Quinn, H. Anderson, M. Bradley, P. Goetting, & P. Shriver, Churches and Church Membership in the United States 16 (1982). The Act had its genesis (so to speak) in legislation introduced by Senator Bill Keith in June [620] 1980. After two hearings before the Senate Committee on Education, Senator Keith asked that his bill be referred to a study commission composed of members of both Houses of the Louisiana Legislature. He expressed hope that the joint committee would give the bill careful consideration and determine whether his arguments were "legitimate." 1 App. E-29 — E-30. The committee met twice during the interim, heard testimony (both for and against the bill) from several witnesses, and received staff reports. Senator Keith introduced his bill again when the legislature reconvened. The Senate Committee on Education held two more hearings and approved the bill after substantially amending it (in part over Senator Keith's objection). After approval by the full Senate, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Education. That committee conducted a lengthy hearing, adopted further amendments, and sent the bill on to the full House, where it received favorable consideration. The Senate concurred in the House amendments and on July 20, 1981, the Governor signed the bill into law.

    102

    Senator Keith's statements before the various committees that considered the bill hardly reflect the confidence of a man preaching to the converted. He asked his colleagues to "keep an open mind" and not to be "biased" by misleading characterizations of creation science. Id., at E-33. He also urged them to "look at this subject on its merits and not on some preconceived idea." Id., at E-34; see also 2 id., at E-491. Senator Keith's reception was not especially warm. Over his strenuous objection, the Senate Committee on Education voted 5-1 to amend his bill to deprive it of any force; as amended, the bill merely gave teachers permission to balance the teaching of creation science or evolution with the other. 1 id., at E-442 — E-461. The House Committee restored the "mandatory" language to the bill by a vote of only 6-5, 2 id., at E-626 — E-627, and both the full House (by vote of 52-35), id., at E-700 — E-706, and full Senate (23-15), id., at E-735 — E-738, had to repel further efforts to gut the bill.

    103

    [621] The legislators understood that Senator Keith's bill involved a "unique" subject, 1 id., at E-106 (Rep. M. Thompson), and they were repeatedly made aware of its potential constitutional problems, see, e. g., id., at E-26 — E-28 (McGehee); id., at E-38 — E-39 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-241 — E-242 (Rossman); id., at E-257 (Probst); id., at E-261 (Beck); id., at E-282 (Sen. Keith). Although the Establishment Clause, including its secular purpose requirement, was of substantial concern to the legislators, they eventually voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Balanced Treatment Act: The House approved it 71-19 (with 15 members absent), 2 id., at E-716 — E-722; the Senate 26-12 (with all members present), id., at E-741 — E-744. The legislators specifically designated the protection of "academic freedom" as the purpose of the Act. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.2 (West 1982). We cannot accurately assess whether this purpose is a "sham," ante, at 587, until we first examine the evidence presented to the legislature far more carefully than the Court has done.

    104

    Before summarizing the testimony of Senator Keith and his supporters, I wish to make clear that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy. But my views (and the views of this Court) about creation science and evolution are (or should be) beside the point. Our task is not to judge the debate about teaching the origins of life, but to ascertain what the members of the Louisiana Legislature believed. The vast majority of them voted to approve a bill which explicitly stated a secular purpose; what is crucial is not their wisdom in believing that purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be.

    105

    Most of the testimony in support of Senator Keith's bill came from the Senator himself and from scientists and educators he presented, many of whom enjoyed academic credentials that may have been regarded as quite impressive by members of the Louisiana Legislature. To a substantial extent, their testimony was devoted to lengthy, and, to the layman, seemingly expert scientific expositions on the origin [622] of life. See, e. g., 1 App. E-11 — E-18 (Sunderland); id., at E-50 — E-60 (Boudreaux); id., at E-86 — E-89 (Ward); id., at E-130 — E-153 (Boudreaux paper); id., at E-321 — E-326 (Boudreaux); id., at E-423 — E-428 (Sen. Keith). These scientific lectures touched upon, inter alia, biology, paleontology, genetics, astronomy, astrophysics, probability analysis, and biochemistry. The witnesses repeatedly assured committee members that "hundreds and hundreds" of highly respected, internationally renowned scientists believed in creation science and would support their testimony. See, e. g., id., at E-5 (Sunderland); id., at E-76 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-100 — E-101 (Reiboldt); id., at E-327 — E-328 (Boudreaux); 2 id., at E-503 — E-504 (Boudreaux).

    106

    Senator Keith and his witnesses testified essentially as set forth in the following numbered paragraphs:

    107

    (1) There are two and only two scientific explanations for the beginning of life[34] — evolution and creation science. 1 id., at E-6 (Sunderland); id., at E-34 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-280 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-417 — E-418 (Sen. Keith). Both are bona fide "sciences." Id., at E-6 — E-7 (Sunderland); id., at E-12 (Sunderland); id., at E-416 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-427 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-491 — E-492 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-497 — E-498 (Sen. Keith). Both posit a theory of the origin of life and subject that theory to empirical testing. Evolution posits that life arose out of inanimate chemical compounds and has gradually evolved over millions of years. Creation science posits that all life forms now on earth appeared suddenly and relatively recently and have changed little. Since there are only two possible explanations of the origin of life, any evidence that tends to disprove the theory of evolution necessarily tends to prove the theory of creation science, and vice versa. For example, the abrupt appearance in the fossil record of complex life, and the extreme rarity [623] of transitional life forms in that record, are evidence for creation science. 1 id., at E-7 (Sunderland); id., at E-12 — E-18 (Sunderland); id., at E-45 — E-60 (Boudreaux); id., at E-67 (Harlow); id., at E-130 — E-153 (Boudreaux paper); id., at E-423 — E-428 (Sen. Keith).

    (2) The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution. In fact, it may be stronger. Id., at E-214 (Young statement); id., at E-310 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-416 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-492 (Sen. Keith). The evidence for evolution is far less compelling than we have been led to believe. Evolution is not a scientific "fact," since it cannot actually be observed in a laboratory. Rather, evolution is merely a scientific theory or "guess." 1 id., at E-20 — E-21 (Morris); id., at E-85 (Ward); id., at E-100 (Reiboldt); id., at E-328 — E-329 (Boudreaux); 2 id., at E-506 (Boudreaux). It is a very bad guess at that. The scientific problems with evolution are so serious that it could accurately be termed a "myth." 1 id., at E-85 (Ward); id., at E-92 — E-93 (Kalivoda); id., at E-95 — E-97 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-154 (Boudreaux paper); id., at E-329 (Boudreaux); id., at E-453 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-505 — E-506 (Boudreaux); id., at E-516 (Young).

    (3) Creation science is educationally valuable. Students exposed to it better understand the current state of scientific evidence about the origin of life. 1 id., at E-19 (Sunderland); id., at E-39 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-79 (Kalivoda); id., at E-308 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-513 — E-514 (Morris). Those students even have a better understanding of evolution. 1 id., at E-19 (Sunderland). Creation science can and should be presented to children without any religious content. Id., at E-12 (Sunderland); id., at E-22 (Sanderford); id., at E-35 — E-36 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-101 (Reiboldt); id., at E-279 — E-280 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-282 (Sen. Keith).

    (4) Although creation science is educationally valuable and strictly scientific, it is now being censored from or misrepresented in the public schools. Id., at E-19 (Sunderland); id., [624] at E-21 (Morris); id., at E-34 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-37 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-42 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-92 (Kalivoda); id., at E-97 — E-98 (Reiboldt); id., at E-214 (Young statement); id., at E-218 (Young statement); id., at E-280 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-309 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-513 (Morris). Evolution, in turn, is misrepresented as an absolute truth. 1 id., at E-63 (Harlow); id., at E-74 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-81 (Kalivoda); id., at E-214 (Young statement); 2 id., at E-507 (Harlow); id., at E-513 (Morris); id., at E-516 (Young). Teachers have been brainwashed by an entrenched scientific establishment composed almost exclusively of scientists to whom evolution is like a "religion." These scientists discriminate against creation scientists so as to prevent evolution's weaknesses from being exposed. 1 id., at E-61 (Boudreaux); id., at E-63 — E-64 (Harlow); id., at E-78 — E-79 (Kalivoda); id., at E-80 (Kalivoda); id., at E-95 — E-97 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-129 (Boudreaux paper); id., at E-218 (Young statement); id., at E-357 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-430 (Boudreaux).

    (5) The censorship of creation science has at least two harmful effects. First, it deprives students of knowledge of one of the two scientific explanations for the origin of life and leads them to believe that evolution is proven fact; thus, their education suffers and they are wrongly taught that science has proved their religious beliefs false. Second, it violates the Establishment Clause. The United States Supreme Court has held that secular humanism is a religion. Id., at E-36 (Sen. Keith) (referring to Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U. S. 488, 495, n. 11 (1961)); 1 App. E-418 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-499 (Sen. Keith). Belief in evolution is a central tenet of that religion. 1 id., at E-282 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-312 — E-313 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-317 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-418 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-499 (Sen. Keith). Thus, by censoring creation science and instructing students that evolution is fact, public school teachers are now advancing religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. 1 id., at E-2 — E-4 [625] (Sen. Keith); id., at E-36 — E-37, E-39 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-154 — E-155 (Boudreaux paper); id., at E-281 — E-282 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-313 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-315 — E-316 (Sen. Keith); id., at E-317 (Sen. Keith); 2 id., at E-499 — E-500 (Sen. Keith).

    108

    Senator Keith repeatedly and vehemently denied that his purpose was to advance a particular religious doctrine. At the outset of the first hearing on the legislation, he testified: "We are not going to say today that you should have some kind of religious instructions in our schools. . . . We are not talking about religion today. . . . I am not proposing that we take the Bible in each science class and read the first chapter of Genesis." 1 id., at E-35. At a later hearing, Senator Keith stressed: "[T]o . . . teach religion and disguise it as creationism . . . is not my intent. My intent is to see to it that our textbooks are not censored." Id., at E-280. He made many similar statements throughout the hearings. See, e. g., id., at E-41; id., at E-282; id., at E-310; id., at E-417; see also id., at E-44 (Boudreaux); id., at E-80 (Kalivoda).

    109

    We have no way of knowing, of course, how many legislators believed the testimony of Senator Keith and his witnesses. But in the absence of evidence to the contrary,[35] we [626] have to assume that many of them did. Given that assumption, the Court today plainly errs in holding that the Louisiana Legislature passed the Balanced Treatment Act for exclusively religious purposes.

    110
    B
    111

    Even with nothing more than this legislative history to go on, I think it would be extraordinary to invalidate the Balanced Treatment Act for lack of a valid secular purpose. Striking down a law approved by the democratically elected representatives of the people is no minor matter. "The cardinal principle of statutory construction is to save and not to destroy. We have repeatedly held that as between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid, our plain duty is to adopt that which will save the act." NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U. S. 1, 30 (1937). So, too, it seems to me, with discerning statutory purpose. Even if the legislative history were silent or ambiguous about the existence of a secular purpose — and here it is not — the statute should survive Lemon's purpose test. But even more validation than mere legislative history is present here. The Louisiana Legislature explicitly set forth its secular purpose [627] ("protecting academic freedom") in the very text of the Act. La. Rev. Stat. § 17:286.2 (West 1982). We have in the past repeatedly relied upon or deferred to such expressions, see, e. g., Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S., at 654; Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S., at 363, 367-368; Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S., at 773; Levitt v. Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty, 413 U. S., at 479-480, n. 7; Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U. S., at 678-679 (plurality opinion); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S., at 613; Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U. S., at 243.

    112

    The Court seeks to evade the force of this expression of purpose by stubbornly misinterpreting it, and then finding that the provisions of the Act do not advance that misinterpreted purpose, thereby showing it to be a sham. The Court first surmises that "academic freedom" means "enhancing the freedom of teachers to teach what they will," ante, at 586 — even though "academic freedom" in that sense has little scope in the structured elementary and secondary curriculums with which the Act is concerned. Alternatively, the Court suggests that it might mean "maximiz[ing] the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of science instruction," ante, at 588 — though that is an exceedingly strange interpretation of the words, and one that is refuted on the very face of the statute. See § 17:286.5. Had the Court devoted to this central question of the meaning of the legislatively expressed purpose a small fraction of the research into legislative history that produced its quotations of religiously motivated statements by individual legislators, it would have discerned quite readily what "academic freedom" meant: students' freedom from indoctrination. The legislature wanted to ensure that students would be free to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence — that is, to protect "the right of each [student] voluntarily to determine what to believe (and what not to believe) free of any coercive pressures from the State." Grand [628] Rapids School District v. Ball, 473 U. S., at 385. The legislature did not care whether the topic of origins was taught; it simply wished to ensure that when the topic was taught, students would receive " `all of the evidence.' " Ante, at 586 (quoting Tr. of Oral Arg. 60).

    113

    As originally introduced, the "purpose" section of the Balanced Treatment Act read: "This Chapter is enacted for the purposes of protecting academic freedom . . . of students . . . and assisting students in their search for truth." 1 App. E-292 (emphasis added). Among the proposed findings of fact contained in the original version of the bill was the following: "Public school instruction in only evolution-science. . . violates the principle of academic freedom because it denies students a choice between scientific models and instead indoctrinates them in evolution science alone." Id., at E-295 (emphasis added).[36] Senator Keith unquestionably understood "academic freedom" to mean "freedom from indoctrination." See id., at E-36 (purpose of bill is "to protect academic freedom by providing student choice"); id., at E-283 (purpose of bill is to protect "academic freedom" by giving students a "choice" rather than subjecting them to "indoctrination on origins").

    114

    If one adopts the obviously intended meaning of the statutory term "academic freedom," there is no basis whatever for concluding that the purpose they express is a "sham." Ante, [629] at 587. To the contrary, the Act pursues that purpose plainly and consistently. It requires that, whenever the subject of origins is covered, evolution be "taught as a theory, rather than as proven scientific fact" and that scientific evidence inconsistent with the theory of evolution (viz., "creation science") be taught as well. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.4A (West 1982). Living up to its title of "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act," § 17.286.1, it treats the teaching of creation the same way. It does not mandate instruction in creation science, § 17:286.5; forbids teachers to present creation science "as proven scientific fact," § 17:286.4A; and bans the teaching of creation science unless the theory is (to use the Court's terminology) "discredit[ed] `. . . at every turn' " with the teaching of evolution. Ante, at 589 (quoting 765 F. 2d, at 1257). It surpasses understanding how the Court can see in this a purpose "to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint," ante, at 593, "to provide a persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine," ante, at 592, "to promote the theory of creation science which embodies a particular religious tenet," ante, at 593, and "to endorse a particular religious doctrine," ante, at 594.

    115

    The Act's reference to "creation" is not convincing evidence of religious purpose. The Act defines creation science as "scientific evidenc[e]," § 17:286.3(2) (emphasis added), and Senator Keith and his witnesses repeatedly stressed that the subject can and should be presented without religious content. See supra, at 623. We have no basis on the record to conclude that creation science need be anything other than a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that life abruptly appeared on earth. See n. 4, supra. Creation science, its proponents insist, no more must explain whence life came than evolution must explain whence came the inanimate materials from which it says life evolved. But even if that were not so, to posit a past creator is not to posit the eternal and personal God who is the object of religious veneration. [630] Indeed, it is not even to posit the "unmoved mover" hypothesized by Aristotle and other notably nonfundamentalist philosophers. Senator Keith suggested this when he referred to "a creator however you define a creator." 1 App. E-280 (emphasis added).

    116

    The Court cites three provisions of the Act which, it argues, demonstrate a "discriminatory preference for the teaching of creation science" and no interest in "academic freedom." Ante, at 588. First, the Act prohibits discrimination only against creation scientists and those who teach creation science. § 17:286.4C. Second, the Act requires local school boards to develop and provide to science teachers "a curriculum guide on presentation of creation-science." § 17:286.7A. Finally, the Act requires the Governor to designate seven creation scientists who shall, upon request, assist local school boards in developing the curriculum guides. § 17:286.7B. But none of these provisions casts doubt upon the sincerity of the legislators' articulated purpose of "academic freedom" — unless, of course, one gives that term the obviously erroneous meanings preferred by the Court. The Louisiana legislators had been told repeatedly that creation scientists were scorned by most educators and scientists, who themselves had an almost religious faith in evolution. It is hardly surprising, then, that in seeking to achieve a balanced, "non-indoctrinating" curriculum, the legislators protected from discrimination only those teachers whom they thought were suffering from discrimination. (Also, the legislators were undoubtedly aware of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968), and thus could quite reasonably have concluded that discrimination against evolutionists was already prohibited.) The two provisions respecting the development of curriculum guides are also consistent with "academic freedom" as the Louisiana Legislature understood the term. Witnesses had informed the legislators that, because of the hostility of most scientists and educators to creation science, the topic had been censored from or badly misrepresented in elementary [631] and secondary school texts. In light of the unavailability of works on creation science suitable for classroom use (a fact appellees concede, see Brief for Appellees 27, 40) and the existence of ample materials on evolution, it was entirely reasonable for the legislature to conclude that science teachers attempting to implement the Act would need a curriculum guide on creation science, but not on evolution, and that those charged with developing the guide would need an easily accessible group of creation scientists. Thus, the provisions of the Act of so much concern to the Court support the conclusion that the legislature acted to advance "academic freedom."

    117

    The legislative history gives ample evidence of the sincerity of the Balanced Treatment Act's articulated purpose. Witness after witness urged the legislators to support the Act so that students would not be "indoctrinated" but would instead be free to decide for themselves, based upon a fair presentation of the scientific evidence, about the origin of life. See, e. g., 1 App. E-18 (Sunderland) ("all that we are advocating" is presenting "scientific data" to students and "letting [them] make up their own mind[s]"); id., at E-19 — E-20 (Sunderland) (Students are now being "indoctrinated" in evolution through the use of "censored school books. . . . All that we are asking for is [the] open unbiased education in the classroom . . . your students deserve"); id., at E-21 (Morris) ("A student cannot [make an intelligent decision about the origin of life] unless he is well informed about both [evolution and creation science]"); id., at E-22 (Sanderford) ("We are asking very simply [that] . . . creationism [be presented] alongside . . . evolution and let people make their own mind[s] up"); id., at E-23 (Young) (the bill would require teachers to live up to their "obligation to present all theories" and thereby enable "students to make judgments themselves"); id., at E-44 (Boudreaux) ("Our intention is truth and as a scientist, I am interested in truth"); id., at E-60 — E-61 (Boudreaux) ("[W]e [teachers] are guilty of a lot of [632] brainwashing. . . . We have a duty to . . . [present the] truth" to students "at all levels from gradeschool on through the college level"); id., at E-79 (Kalivoda) ("This [hearing] is being held I think to determine whether children will benefit from freedom of information or if they will be handicapped educationally by having little or no information about creation"); id., at E-80 (Kalivoda) ("I am not interested in teaching religion in schools. . . . I am interested in the truth and [students] having the opportunity to hear more than one side"); id., at E-98 (Reiboldt) ("The students have a right to know there is an alternate creationist point of view. They have a right to know the scientific evidences which suppor[t] that alternative"); id., at E-218 (Young statement) (passage of the bill will ensure that "communication of scientific ideas and discoveries may be unhindered"); 2 id., at E-514 (Morris) ("[A]re we going to allow [students] to look at evolution, to look at creationism, and to let one or the other stand or fall on its own merits, or will we by failing to pass this bill . . . deny students an opportunity to hear another viewpoint?"); id., at E-516 — E-517 (Young) ("We want to give the children here in this state an equal opportunity to see both sides of the theories"). Senator Keith expressed similar views. See, e. g., 1 id., at E-36; id., at E-41; id., at E-280; id., at E-283.

    118

    Legislators other than Senator Keith made only a few statements providing insight into their motives, but those statements cast no doubt upon the sincerity of the Act's articulated purpose. The legislators were concerned primarily about the manner in which the subject of origins was presented in Louisiana schools — specifically, about whether scientifically valuable information was being censored and students misled about evolution. Representatives Cain, Jenkins, and F. Thompson seemed impressed by the scientific evidence presented in support of creation science. See 2 id., at E-530 (Rep. F. Thompson); id., at E-533 (Rep. Cain); id., at E-613 (Rep. Jenkins). At the first study commission hearing, Senator Picard and Representative M. Thompson questioned [633] Senator Keith about Louisiana teachers' treatment of evolution and creation science. See 1 id., at E-71 — E-74. At the close of the hearing, Representative M. Thompson told the audience:

    119
    "We as members of the committee will also receive from the staff information of what is currently being taught in the Louisiana public schools. We really want to see [it]. I . . . have no idea in what manner [biology] is presented and in what manner the creationist theories [are] excluded in the public school[s]. We want to look at what the status of the situation is." Id., at E-104.
    120

    Legislators made other comments suggesting a concern about censorship and misrepresentation of scientific information. See, e. g., id., at E-386 (Sen. McLeod); 2 id., at E-527 (Rep. Jenkins); id., at E-528 (Rep. M. Thompson); id., at E-534 (Rep. Fair).

    121

    It is undoubtedly true that what prompted the legislature to direct its attention to the misrepresentation of evolution in the schools (rather than the inaccurate presentation of other topics) was its awareness of the tension between evolution and the religious beliefs of many children. But even appellees concede that a valid secular purpose is not rendered impermissible simply because its pursuit is prompted by concern for religious sensitivities. Tr. of Oral Arg. 43, 56. If a history teacher falsely told her students that the bones of Jesus Christ had been discovered, or a physics teacher that the Shroud of Turin had been conclusively established to be inexplicable on the basis of natural causes, I cannot believe (despite the majority's implication to the contrary, see ante, at 592-593) that legislators or school board members would be constitutionally prohibited from taking corrective action, simply because that action was prompted by concern for the religious beliefs of the misinstructed students.

    122

    In sum, even if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that a majority of the Louisiana Legislature voted for the Balanced Treatment Act partly in order to foster (rather [634] than merely eliminate discrimination against) Christian fundamentalist beliefs, our cases establish that that alone would not suffice to invalidate the Act, so long as there was a genuine secular purpose as well. We have, moreover, no adequate basis for disbelieving the secular purpose set forth in the Act itself, or for concluding that it is a sham enacted to conceal the legislators' violation of their oaths of office. I am astonished by the Court's unprecedented readiness to reach such a conclusion, which I can only attribute to an intellectual predisposition created by the facts and the legend of Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S. W. 363 (1927) — an instinctive reaction that any governmentally imposed requirements bearing upon the teaching of evolution must be a manifestation of Christian fundamentalist repression. In this case, however, it seems to me the Court's position is the repressive one. The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools, just as Mr. Scopes was entitled to present whatever scientific evidence there was for it. Perhaps what the Louisiana Legislature has done is unconstitutional because there is no such evidence, and the scheme they have established will amount to no more than a presentation of the Book of Genesis. But we cannot say that on the evidence before us in this summary judgment context, which includes ample uncontradicted testimony that "creation science" is a body of scientific knowledge rather than revealed belief. Infinitely less can we say (or should we say) that the scientific evidence for evolution is so conclusive that no one could be gullible enough to believe that there is any real scientific evidence to the contrary, so that the legislation's stated purpose must be a lie. Yet that illiberal judgment, that Scopes-in-reverse, is ultimately the basis on which the Court's facile rejection of the Louisiana Legislature's purpose must rest.

    123

    [635] Since the existence of secular purpose is so entirely clear, and thus dispositive, I will not go on to discuss the fact that, even if the Louisiana Legislature's purpose were exclusively to advance religion, some of the well-established exceptions to the impermissibility of that purpose might be applicable — the validating intent to eliminate a perceived discrimination against a particular religion, to facilitate its free exercise, or to accommodate it. See supra, at 617-618. I am not in any case enamored of those amorphous exceptions, since I think them no more than unpredictable correctives to what is (as the next Part of this opinion will discuss) a fundamentally unsound rule. It is surprising, however, that the Court does not address these exceptions, since the context of the legislature's action gives some reason to believe they may be applicable.[37]

    124

    [636] Because I believe that the Balanced Treatment Act had a secular purpose, which is all the first component of the Lemon test requires, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further consideration.

    125
    III
    126

    I have to this point assumed the validity of the Lemon "purpose" test. In fact, however, I think the pessimistic evaluation that THE CHIEF JUSTICE made of the totality of Lemon is particularly applicable to the "purpose" prong: it is "a constitutional theory [that] has no basis in the history of the amendment it seeks to interpret, is difficult to apply and yields unprincipled results . . . ." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 112 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).

    127

    Our cases interpreting and applying the purpose test have made such a maze of the Establishment Clause that even the most conscientious governmental officials can only guess what motives will be held unconstitutional. We have said essentially the following: Government may not act with the purpose of advancing religion, except when forced to do so by the Free Exercise Clause (which is now and then); or when eliminating existing governmental hostility to religion (which exists sometimes); or even when merely accommodating governmentally uninhibited religious practices, except that at some point (it is unclear where) intentional accommodation results in the fostering of religion, which is of course unconstitutional. See supra, at 614-618.

    128

    But the difficulty of knowing what vitiating purpose one is looking for is as nothing compared with the difficulty of knowing how or where to find it. For while it is possible to discern the objective "purpose" of a statute (i. e., the public good at which its provisions appear to be directed), or even the formal motivation for a statute where that is explicitly set forth (as it was, to no avail, here), discerning the subjective motivation of those enacting the statute is, to be honest, almost always an impossible task. The number of possible [637] motivations, to begin with, is not binary, or indeed even finite. In the present case, for example, a particular legislator need not have voted for the Act either because he wanted to foster religion or because he wanted to improve education. He may have thought the bill would provide jobs for his district, or may have wanted to make amends with a faction of his party he had alienated on another vote, or he may have been a close friend of the bill's sponsor, or he may have been repaying a favor he owed the majority leader, or he may have hoped the Governor would appreciate his vote and make a fundraising appearance for him, or he may have been pressured to vote for a bill he disliked by a wealthy contributor or by a flood of constituent mail, or he may have been seeking favorable publicity, or he may have been reluctant to hurt the feelings of a loyal staff member who worked on the bill, or he may have been settling an old score with a legislator who opposed the bill, or he may have been mad at his wife who opposed the bill, or he may have been intoxicated and utterly unmotivated when the vote was called, or he may have accidentally voted "yes" instead of "no," or, of course, he may have had (and very likely did have) a combination of some of the above and many other motivations. To look for the sole purpose of even a single legislator is probably to look for something that does not exist.

    129

    Putting that problem aside, however, where ought we to look for the individual legislator's purpose? We cannot of course assume that every member present (if, as is unlikely, we know who or even how many they were) agreed with the motivation expressed in a particular legislator's preenactment floor or committee statement. Quite obviously, "[w]hat motivates one legislator to make a speech about a statute is not necessarily what motivates scores of others to enact it." United States v. O'Brien, 391 U. S. 367, 384 (1968). Can we assume, then, that they all agree with the motivation expressed in the staff-prepared committee reports they might have read — even though we are unwilling to [638] assume that they agreed with the motivation expressed in the very statute that they voted for? Should we consider postenactment floor statements? Or postenactment testimony from legislators, obtained expressly for the lawsuit? Should we consider media reports on the realities of the legislative bargaining? All of these sources, of course, are eminently manipulable. Legislative histories can be contrived and sanitized, favorable media coverage orchestrated, and postenactment recollections conveniently distorted. Perhaps most valuable of all would be more objective indications — for example, evidence regarding the individual legislators' religious affiliations. And if that, why not evidence regarding the fervor or tepidity of their beliefs?

    130

    Having achieved, through these simple means, an assessment of what individual legislators intended, we must still confront the question (yet to be addressed in any of our cases) how many of them must have the invalidating intent. If a state senate approves a bill by vote of 26 to 25, and only one of the 26 intended solely to advance religion, is the law unconstitutional? What if 13 of the 26 had that intent? What if 3 of the 26 had the impermissible intent, but 3 of the 25 voting against the bill were motivated by religious hostility or were simply attempting to "balance" the votes of their impermissibly motivated colleagues? Or is it possible that the intent of the bill's sponsor is alone enough to invalidate it — on a theory, perhaps, that even though everyone else's intent was pure, what they produced was the fruit of a forbidden tree?

    131

    Because there are no good answers to these questions, this Court has recognized from Chief Justice Marshall, see Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 130 (1810), to Chief Justice Warren, United States v. O'Brien, supra, at 383-384, that determining the subjective intent of legislators is a perilous enterprise. See also Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U. S. 217, 224-225 (1971); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S., at 113 (Black, J., concurring). It is perilous, I might note, not just for the judges who will very likely reach the wrong result, [639] but also for the legislators who find that they must assess the validity of proposed legislation — and risk the condemnation of having voted for an unconstitutional measure — not on the basis of what the legislation contains, nor even on the basis of what they themselves intend, but on the basis of what others have in mind.

    132

    Given the many hazards involved in assessing the subjective intent of governmental decisionmakers, the first prong of Lemon is defensible, I think, only if the text of the Establishment Clause demands it. That is surely not the case. The Clause states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." One could argue, I suppose, that any time Congress acts with the intent of advancing religion, it has enacted a "law respecting an establishment of religion"; but far from being an unavoidable reading, it is quite an unnatural one. I doubt, for example, that the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 730, as amended, 15 U. S. C. § 12 et seq., could reasonably be described as a "law respecting an establishment of religion" if bizarre new historical evidence revealed that it lacked a secular purpose, even though it has no discernible nonsecular effect. It is, in short, far from an inevitable reading of the Establishment Clause that it forbids all governmental action intended to advance religion; and if not inevitable, any reading with such untoward consequences must be wrong.

    133

    In the past we have attempted to justify our embarrassing Establishment Clause jurisprudence[38] on the ground that it [640] "sacrifices clarity and predictability for flexibility." Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S., at 662. One commentator has aptly characterized this as "a euphemism . . . for . . . the absence of any principled rationale." Choper, supra n. 7, at 681. I think it time that we sacrifice some "flexibility" for "clarity and predictability." Abandoning Lemon's purpose test — a test which exacerbates the tension between the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, has no basis in the language or history of the Amendment, and, as today's decision shows, has wonderfully flexible consequences — would be a good place to start.

    134

    ----------

    135

    [1] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights by Steven Frederick McDowell; for the Christian Legal Society et al. by Michael J. Woodruff, Kimberlee W. Colby, Samuel E. Ericsson, and Forest D. Montgomery; and for Concerned Women for America by Michael P. Farris and Jordan W. Lorence.

    136

    [2] JUSTICE O'CONNOR joins all but Part II of this opinion.

    137

    [3] Appellants, the Louisiana Governor, the Attorney General, the State Superintendent, the State Department of Education and the St. Tammany Parish School Board, agreed not to implement the Creationism Act pending the final outcome of this litigation. The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Orleans Parish School Board were among the original defendants in the suit but both later realigned as plaintiffs.

    138

    [4] The District Court initially stayed the action pending the resolution of a separate lawsuit brought by the Act's legislative sponsor and others for declaratory and injunctive relief. After the separate suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, Keith v. Louisiana Department of Education, 553 F. Supp. 295 (MD La. 1982), the District Court lifted its stay in this case and held that the Creationism Act violated the Louisiana Constitution. The court ruled that the State Constitution grants authority over the public school system to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rather than the state legislature. On appeal, the Court of Appeals certified the question to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which found the Creationism Act did not violate the State Constitution, Aguillard v. Treen, 440 So. 2d 704 (1983). The Court of Appeals then remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether the Creationism Act violates the Federal Constitution. Aguillard v. Treen, 720 F. 2d 676 (CA5 1983).

    139

    [5] The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . ." Under the Fourteenth Amendment, this "fundamental concept of liberty" applies to the States. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 303 (1940).

    140

    [6] The Lemon test has been applied in all cases since its adoption in 1971, except in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), where the Court held that the Nebraska Legislature's practice of opening a session with a prayer by a chaplain paid by the State did not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court based its conclusion in that case on the historical acceptance of the practice. Such a historical approach is not useful in determining the proper roles of church and state in public schools, since free public education was virtually nonexistent at the time the Constitution was adopted. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 80 (1985) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment) (citing Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 238, and n. 7 (1963) (BRENNAN, J., concurring)).

    141

    [7] The potential for undue influence is far less significant with regard to college students who voluntarily enroll in courses. "This distinction warrants a difference in constitutional results." Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, supra, at 253 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). Thus, for instance, the Court has not questioned the authority of state colleges and universities to offer courses on religion or theology. See Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 271 (1981) (POWELL, J.); id., at 281 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment).

    142

    [8] The Court of Appeals stated that "[a]cademic freedom embodies the principle that individual instructors are at liberty to teach that which they deem to be appropriate in the exercise of their professional judgment." 765 F. 2d, at 1257. But, in the State of Louisiana, courses in public schools are prescribed by the State Board of Education and teachers are not free, absent permission, to teach courses different from what is required. Tr. of Oral Arg. 44-46. "Academic freedom," at least as it is commonly understood, is not a relevant concept in this context. Moreover, as the Court of Appeals explained, the Act "requires, presumably upon risk of sanction or dismissal for failure to comply, the teaching of creation-science whenever evolution is taught. Although states may prescribe public school curriculum concerning science instruction under ordinary circumstances, the compulsion inherent in the Balanced Treatment Act is, on its face, inconsistent with the idea of academic freedom as it is universally understood." 765 F. 2d, at 1257 (emphasis in original). The Act actually serves to diminish academic freedom by removing the flexibility to teach evolution without also teaching creation science, even if teachers determine that such curriculum results in less effective and comprehensive science instruction.

    143

    [9] The Creationism Act's provisions appear among other provisions prescribing the courses of study in Louisiana's public schools. These other provisions, similar to those in other States, prescribe courses of study in such topics as driver training, civics, the Constitution, and free enterprise. None of these other provisions, apart from those associated with the Creationism Act, nominally mandates "equal time" for opposing opinions within a specific area of learning. See, e. g., La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 17:261-17:281 (West 1982 and Supp. 1987).

    144

    [10] The dissent concludes that the Act's purpose was to protect the academic freedom of students, and not that of teachers. Post, at 628. Such a view is not at odds with our conclusion that if the Act's purpose was to provide comprehensive scientific education (a concern shared by students and teachers, as well as parents), that purpose was not advanced by the statute's provisions. Supra,at 587.

    145

    Moreover, it is astonishing that the dissent, to prove its assertion, relies on a section of the legislation that was eventually deleted by the legislature. Compare § 3702 in 1 App. E-292 (text of section prior to amendment) with La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:286.2 (West 1982). The dissent contends that this deleted section — which was explicitly rejected by the Louisiana Legislature — reveals the legislature's "obviously intended meaning of the statutory terms `academic freedom.' " Post, at 628. Quite to the contrary, Boudreaux, the main expert relied on by the sponsor of the Act, cautioned the legislature that the words "academic freedom" meant "freedom to teach science." 1 App. E-429. His testimony was given at the time the legislature was deciding whether to delete this section of the Act.

    146

    [11] See McLean v. Arkansas Bd. of Ed., 529 F. Supp. 1255, 1258-1264 (ED Ark. 1982) (reviewing historical and contemporary antagonisms between the theory of evolution and religious movements).

    147

    [12] The Court evaluated the statute in light of a series of antievolution statutes adopted by state legislatures dating back to the Tennessee statute that was the focus of the celebrated Scopes trial in 1925. Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S., at 98, 101, n. 8, and 109. The Court found the Arkansas statute comparable to this Tennessee "monkey law," since both gave preference to " `religious establishments which have as one of their tenets or dogmas the instantaneous creation of man.' " Id., at 103, n. 11 (quoting Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 126, 289 S. W. 363, 369 (1927) (Chambliss, J., concurring)).

    148

    [13] While the belief in the instantaneous creation of humankind by a supernatural creator may require the rejection of every aspect of the theory of evolution, an individual instead may choose to accept some or all of this scientific theory as compatible with his or her spiritual outlook. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 23-29.

    149

    [14] Boudreaux repeatedly defined creation science in terms of a theory that supports the existence of a supernatural creator. See, e. g., 2 App. E-501-E-502 (equating creation science with a theory pointing "to conditions of a creator"); 1 App. E-153-E-154 ("Creation . . . requires the direct involvement of a supernatural intelligence"). The lead witness at the hearings introducing the original bill, Luther Sunderland, described creation science as postulating "that everything was created by some intelligence or power external to the universe." Id., at E-9-E-10.

    150

    [15] Senator Keith believed that creation science embodied this view: "One concept is that a creator however you define a creator was responsible for everything that is in this world. The other concept is that it just evolved." Id., at E-280. Besides Senator Keith, several of the most vocal legislators also revealed their religious motives for supporting the bill in the official legislative history. See, e. g., id., at E-441, E-443 (Sen. Saunders noting that bill was amended so that teachers could refer to the Bible and other religious texts to support the creation-science theory); 2 App. E-561 — E-562, E-610 (Rep. Jenkins contending that the existence of God was a scientific fact).

    151

    [16] See, e. g., 1 App. E-74-E-75 (noting that evolution is contrary to his family's religious beliefs); id., at E-313 (contending that evolution advances religions contrary to his own); id., at E-357 (stating that evolution is "almost a religion" to science teachers); id., at E-418 (arguing that evolution is cornerstone of some religions contrary to his own); 2 App. E-763 — E-764 (author of model bill, from which Act is derived, sent copy of the model bill to Senator Keith and advised that "I view this whole battle as one between God and anti-God forces . . . . [I]f evolution is permitted to continue . . . it will continue to be made to appear that a Supreme Being is unnecessary . . .").

    152

    [17] Neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals found a clear secular purpose, while both agreed that the Creationism Act's primary purpose was to advance religion. "When both courts below are unable to discern an arguably valid secular purpose, this Court normally should hesitate to find one." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 66 (POWELL, J., concurring).

    153

    [18] There is "no express or implied requirement in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U. S. 317, 323 (1986) (emphasis in original).

    154

    [19] The experts, who were relied upon by the sponsor of the bill and the legislation's other supporters, testified that creation science embodies the religious view that there is a supernatural creator of the universe. See, supra, at 591-592.

    155

    [20] Appellants contend that the affidavits are relevant because the term "creation science" is a technical term similar to that found in statutes that regulate certain scientific or technological developments. Even assuming, arguendo, that "creation science" is a term of art as represented by appellants, the definition provided by the relevant agency provides a better insight than the affidavits submitted by appellants in this case. In a 1981 survey conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education, the school superintendents in charge of implementing the provisions of the Creationism Act were asked to interpret the meaning of "creation science" as used in the statute. About 75 percent of Louisiana's superintendents stated that they understood "creation science" to be a religious doctrine. 2 App. E-798-E-799. Of this group, the largest proportion of superintendents interpreted creation science, as defined by the Act, to mean the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. The remaining superintendents believed that the Act required teaching the view that "the universe was made by a creator." Id., at E-799.

    156

    [21] The Court has previously found the postenactment elucidation of the meaning of a statute to be of little relevance in determining the intent of the legislature contemporaneous to the passage of the statute. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S., at 57, n. 45; id., at 75 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment).

    157

    [22] Numerous other Establishment Clause cases that found state statutes to be unconstitutional have been disposed of without trial. E. g., Larkin v. Grendel's Den, Inc., 459 U. S. 116 (1982); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962).

    158

    [23] As the Court recognizes, ante, at 583, n. 4, the one exception to this consistent application of the Lemon test is Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983).

    159

    [24] Creation "ex nihilo" means creation "from nothing" and has been found to be an "inherently religious concept." McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255, 1266 (ED Ark. 1982). The District Court in McLean found:

    160

    "The argument that creation from nothing in [§] 4(a)(1) [of the substantially similar Arkansas Balanced Treatment Act] does not involve a supernatural deity has no evidentiary or rational support. To the contrary, `creation out of nothing' is a concept unique to Western religions. In traditional Western religious thought, the conception of a creator of the world is a conception of God. Indeed, creation of the world `out of nothing' is the ultimate religious statement because God is the only actor." Id., at 1265.

    161

    [25] The District Court in McLeannoted three other elements of the CRS statement of belief to which members must subscribe:

    162

    "`[i] All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during Creation Week as described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds. [ii] The great Flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Deluge, was an historical event, world-wide in its extent and effect. [iii] Finally, we are an organization of Christian men of science, who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman, and their subsequent Fall into sin, is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only thru (sic) accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.' " 529 F. Supp., at 1260, n. 7.

    163

    [26] After hearing testimony from numerous experts, the District Court in McLean concluded that "[t]he parallels between [the definition section of the model Act] and Genesis are quite specific." Id., at 1265, n. 19. It found the concepts of "sudden creation from nothing," a worldwide flood of divine origin, and "kinds" to be derived from Genesis; "relatively recent inception" to mean "an age of the earth from 6,000 to 10,000 years" and to be based "on the genealogy of the Old Testament using the rather astronomical ages assigned to the patriarchs"; and the "separate ancestry of man and ape" to focus on "the portion of the theory of evolution which Fundamentalists find most offensive." Ibid. (citing Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97 (1968)).

    164

    [27] John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson: "[T]he Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation." Letter of Dec. 25, 1813, 10 Works of John Adams 85 (1856).

    165

    [28] There is an enormous variety of religions in the United States. The Encyclopedia of American Religions (2d ed. 1987) describes 1,347 religious organizations. The United States Census Bureau groups the major American religions into: Buddhist Churches of America; Eastern Churches; Jews; Old Catholic, Polish National Catholic, and Armenian Churches; The Roman Catholic Church; Protestants; and Miscellaneous. Statistical Abstract of the United States 50 (106th ed. 1986).

    166

    Our country has become strikingly multireligious as well as multiracial and multiethnic. This fact, perhaps more than anything one could write, demonstrates the wisdom of including the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. States' proposals for what became the Establishment Clause evidence the goal of accommodating competing religious beliefs. See, e. g., New York's Resolution of Ratification reprinted in 2 Documentary History of the Constitution 190, 191 (1894) ("[N]o Religious Sect or Society ought to be favored or established by Law in preference of others").

    167

    [29] State-sponsored universities in Louisiana already offer courses integrating religious studies into the curriculum. Approximately half of the state-sponsored universities offer one or more courses involving religion. As an example, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge offers seven courses: Introduction to Religion, Old Testament, New Testament, Faith and Doubt, Jesus in History and Tradition, Eastern Religions, and Philosophy of Religion.

    168

    Of course, the difference in maturity between college-age and secondary students may affect the constitutional analysis of a particular public school policy. See Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 274, n. 14 (1981). Nevertheless, many general teaching guides suggest that education as to the nature of various religious beliefs could be integrated into a secondary school curriculum in a manner consistent with the Constitution. See, e. g., C. Kniker, Teaching about Religion in Public Schools (1985); Religion in Elementary Social Studies Project, Final Report (Fla. State Univ. 1976); L. Karp, Teaching the Bible as Literature in Public Schools (1973).

    169

    [30] For example, the political controversies in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and India cannot be understood properly without reference to the underlying religious beliefs and the conflicts they tend to generate.

    170

    [31] See N. Y. Times, May 10, 1981, section 2, p. 24, col. 3; N. McWhirter, 1986 Guiness Book of World Records 144 (the Bible is the world's most widely distributed book).

    171

    [32] Article VI, cl. 3, of the Constitution provides that "the Members of the several State Legislatures . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution."

    172

    [33] Thus the popular dictionary definitions cited by JUSTICE POWELL, ante, at 598-599 (concurring opinion), and appellees, see Brief for Appellees 25, 26; Tr. of Oral Arg. 32, 34, are utterly irrelevant, as are the views of the school superintendents cited by the majority, ante, at 595, n. 18. Three-quarters of those surveyed had "[n]o" or "[l]imited" knowledge of "creation-science theory," and not a single superintendent claimed "[e]xtensive" knowledge of the subject. 2 App. E-798.

    173

    [34] Although creation scientists and evolutionists also disagree about the origin of the physical universe, both proponents and opponents of Senator Keith's bill focused on the question of the beginning of life.

    174

    [35] Although appellees and amici dismiss the testimony of Senator Keith and his witnesses as pure fantasy, they did not bother to submit evidence of that to the District Court, making it difficult for us to agree with them. The State, by contrast, submitted the affidavits of two scientists, a philosopher, a theologian, and an educator, whose academic credentials are rather impressive.