Litigation Outside of the Supreme Court

Federal courts have deliberated a surfeit of cases implicating the Establishment Clause and recent contests have focused on both the relationships between private groups exercising religious customs and government action and possible endorsement. As evinced by this snapshot of recent developments, the federal courts questions pertaining to various religious practices in relation to the Establishment Clause. Town of Greece v. Galloway emanates from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which found the town's legislative prayer to be unconstitutional.

In July 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a South Carolina program allowing public high school students to earn credit for religious courses taken off campus during the school day.

In July 2011, courthouses in Florida and Ohio were barred from displaying the Ten Commandments under the First Amendment. In both cases, the religious material was defended as freedom of speech, but because it received the benefit of government funds, it created an unacceptable spectre of an endorsement of religion, even when it was displayed next to excerpts from agnostic philosophies.

In April 2010, the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the national day of prayer violated the Establishment Clause because it exceeded an "acknowledgment" of religion to the point of government-backed encouragement that Americans engage in non-secular activities.

In March 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the phrase "so help me God" in the presidential oath when it was contested by atheist organizations. In the same month, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the Pledge of Allegiance when it is run by school teachers, and the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on US currency.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2006 vacated a trial court decision from 2004 that barred the Freedom From Religion Foundation from pursuing a lawsuit against President George Bush's faith-based initiatives.

In January 2005, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the removal of a Bible from a display outside of a Texas Courthouse. The display was funded by the private homeless mission and struck down for creating the appearance of a government endorsement of faith.


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