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AMERICAN CIV. LIBERTIES v. CITY

December 5, 1985

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF ILLINOIS, KATHRYN GIUNTOLI, AND JOAN MARKLEY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF ST. CHARLES AND FRED T.L. NORRIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Holderman, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case presents the difficult and sensitive issue of whether the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the City of St. Charles, Illinois from including an illuminated latin cross in its annual Christmas lighting display. The lighting display has been a part of St. Charles' Christmas celebration for more than fifteen years.

The plaintiffs, two St. Charles' residents and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, filed this suit challenging the City's annual practice of displaying the illuminated cross. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting St. Charles from displaying the illuminated cross on City property.*fn1 The defendants, the City of St. Charles and its Mayor, Fred T.L. Norris, sued in his official capacity, deny that the lighted cross violates the United States Constitution.

This matter was first presented to the Court on November 27, 1985 by motion of the plaintiffs for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. On the same day, the defendants, through their counsel, sought additional time to respond to the motion and voluntarily agreed not to display the illuminated cross until the hearing could be held and the Court had the opportunity to rule on the question. The hearing was held on December 2, 1985.

I. The Setting and the Structure*fn2

St. Charles is located along the Fox River in Kane County, Illinois and has a population of approximately 18,300 people. According to the testimony of its Mayor, Fred T.L. Norris, the City, in an attempt to brighten Christmas spirits and cheer for the residents and tourists of St. Charles, has for more than 15 years sponsored a spectacular Christmas holiday lighting program. As part of this annual lighting program, the City decorates the main thoroughfares of St. Charles as well as the city buildings with lights and ornamentation.

On both Main Street (Route 64) and Illinois Street the City erects six foot lighted Christmas trees that are attached to the top of the street lamps that run parallel to the roadways. The street lamps and the attached Christmas trees are on the public way. St. Charles is situated in the valley of the Fox River and the Christmas trees along Main Street stretch from one side of the valley to the other. The Illinois Street trees are hung in the downtown area and across the Illinois Street Bridge which spans the Fox River.

An integral part of St. Charles' lighting program is the decorations that adorn the municipal complex. The municipal complex is a six acre plot of land located in the heart of downtown St. Charles. The public buildings located in the municipal complex are the municipal center, the planning and public works building, the fire station, the public safety building and an electrical facility. All the trees in the six acre municipal complex are illuminated with strings of white lights during the holiday season.

At the southwest end of the complex sits the municipal center, a large white marble building that serves as the city hall and local museum. The two story municipal center has a large tower that extends upward for three or four stories. The tower is octagonal in shape and is topped off with a glass pyramid type structure. As part of the lighting program the sides of the tower are illuminated alternatively in green and red lights. The glass top is lighted in blue. The lighting creates a stunning display that can be seen for miles and reflects beautifully off the Fox River which is immediately to the west of the municipal complex. The street-level windows of the municipal center are also decorated and contain animated scenes associated with the holiday season. Finally, mounted along the south wall of the municipal building is a large lighted wreath with a red bow.

To the northeast of the municipal center is the planning and public works building (otherwise known as the city plant and Swanson building). The south wall of this two story structure overlooks a municipal parking lot and is visible from the streets that intersect in front of the municipal complex. This wall is decorated with lighted snowflakes, a lighted snowman and a lighted Santa Claus.

Directly to the north of the planning and public works building and approximately 80 feet from the municipal center is the City's fire station. The fire station's east wall is decorated with a lighted wreath and two coach lamps which are illuminated by green and red bulbs. Multicolor lights are also strung along the east and extend around to the south face of the fire station. On the west side of the fire station, facing the Fox River, illuminated snowflakes are attached to the building. A large green illuminated wreath is mounted on the west face of the fire station's hose drying tower.

To the northwest of the fire station is the public safety building. This structure is also decorated with multicolored lights along its roof line. On the west side of the building and on the shore of the Fox River, a large twenty foot simulated Christmas tree is created with strings of green lights and is topped with a white lighted star.

There is one other decoration that appears in the municipal complex area. It is the reason for this litigation. At issue here is the string of lights attached to a communications tower on the roof of the fire station's hose drying building. The communications tower is a 35-foot, three-legged, triangular metal structure anchored in concrete on the roof of the two story hose drying tower of the St. Charles fire station. The metal communications tower is used as a television antenna and has an aenometer mounted on it for the purpose of measuring wind speed and direction. The tower also anchors a radio scanning antenna used by the St. Charles police and fire department for mobile communication. Attached to the metal tower, slightly above its midpoint, is a crossbar which runs perpendicular to the tower and parallel to the ground. This crossbar was originally installed in 1965 and was later reinforced in 1969. It served as a ground plane radio antenna from its installation until the mid 1970's. The crossbar no longer serves any function other than as additional bracing for the metal tower. The cross bar as reinforced is about eighteen feet in width and consists of two "U" shaped pieces of 3/4" conduit which have their open ends attached to the tower.

On or about the 1969 Christmas holiday season, the volunteer firemen decided to incorporate the communications tower and the crossbar into the City's annual lighting program. At that time, the volunteer firemen installed white lights on the tower and crossbar, configuring ...


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