In 2013, the City of Evansville agreed to erect a display of 31 six-foot-tall plastic crosses along a well-traveled stretch of Riverside Drive between Court Street and Locust Street, a popular destination for residents and visitors to the city.
The ACLU of Indiana filed suit on behalf of two Vanderburgh County, Indiana residents, arguing that the display violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the state from endorsing a specific religion, or any religion at all. Five weeks after the suit was filed, Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a ruling that held that the display, if it were erected, would convey an endorsement of religion in direct violation of the Establishment Clause.
Churches are free to erect faith displays on their own property, but not on public grounds.
Even though our case, Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano v. City of Evansville, was with the city, West Side Christian Church, which had asked the city to erect the crosses, appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. On June 26, 2014, the Court threw out the church's lawsuit, leaving in place the injunction prohibiting display of the crosses on public property. The Court found that the Church lacked standing to appeal because the District Court's order had been addressed exclusively to the City.
Because the City did not appeal, the Court found that no relief could be issued in favor of the Church. The Court did, however, caution that the Church's "road ahead might not necessarily get any easier if it ever attains standing to challenge the injunction," for, as the district court held, the display is likely unconstitutional.
The Constitution strikes a delicate and brilliant balance between the free exercise of religion by individuals and the prohibition of the establishment of religion by government. As the Court affirmed, churches are free to erect faith displays on their own property, but not on public grounds.