Supreme Court Lets Ruling Stand That Religious Displays At U.S. Post Office Are Unconstitutional

March 3, 2010 12:00 am

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Declines Review Of Appellate Decision That Displays Improperly Endorse Religion

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a federal appellate court ruling that a United States Postal Service contract postal unit (CPU) cannot place religious displays on its postal counter and other areas serving postal patrons. By declining to review the case, the Supreme Court left undisturbed an August 2009 ruling by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, the national ACLU and local residents who use that post office.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court left intact previous rulings that held that religious outreach is out of place at a postal counter,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “Religious liberty is best protected when the government or those acting as governmental agents remain neutral on matters of faith.”

The case was originally filed on behalf of Bertram Cooper, a Manchester, Connecticut resident for whom the CPU, operated by the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church, was the closest post office, and pursued on appeal by two other local residents who had intervened. The ACLU argued that because the CPU functions as an extension of the federal government, pervasive displays of religious materials posted by the church amounted to unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion.

In its ruling, the Second Circuit ordered that the areas in the CPU where postal services are provided must be free of religious material.

CPUs are postal facilities operated by private parties on private land and furnish postal services to places where it is not otherwise geographically or economically feasible to build and operate official “classified” post offices.

“We are gratified that the Supreme Court has left in place the Second Circuit’s ruling that using the machinery of the state to endorse a religious agenda is unconstitutional,” said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Lawyers on the case include Mach, David McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut and Aaron Bayer, Kevin Smith and Sabrina Houlton from Wiggin & Dana, LLP.

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