The first issue in this case concerns the Establishment Clause. The second issue concerns the Freedom of Speech Clause. The Plaintiffs—Karotine Holiday Display Group, Church of Karotine, and Russ L. Bell—filed suit in district court, bringing a facial and as-applied challenge against the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance. The Defendants—City of Dalton, Dalton Display Agency, and Benjamin Linus, Chairman of the Dalton Display Agency—denied that the Ordinance violated either the Establishment Clause or the Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Subsequently, both parties moved for summary judgment and the district court ruled for the Defendants on all claims. The Plaintiffs are now appealing in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Appellant Karotine Holiday Display Group is a Holiday Group, officially recognized by the Dalton Display Agency under subsection (d)(1)(C) of the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance.
Appellant Church of Karotine is a fictitious Church that celebrates the religious holiday of “Karota” on December 15. The Church is located in Dalton, Rhode Island, and has 61 active members.
Appellant Russ L. Bell is a resident of Dalton, Rhode Island, and is both a member of, and the largest donor to, the Karotine Church and the Karotine Holiday Display Group.
Appellee City of Dalton is a fictitious city, located in Rhode Island.
Appellee Dalton Display Agency is a City agency that is primarily responsible for the enforcement of the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance.
Appellee Benjamin Linus is the Chairman of the Dalton Display Agency and is being sued in his official capacity.
The Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance, 21 Dalt. § 14 (February 28, 2012) is the City’s fourth attempt at addressing the City's role in public holiday displays.
21 Dalt. § 14(a) is a definitional section. Notably, it defines: “Holiday Season” as the period from November 15–January 15; “Holiday Display” as any display that reasonably appears to promote, endorse, celebrate, or criticize any holiday; “City Square” as the square directly behind the City Council; “Dalton Park” and “Dalton Road” as areas which have historically been used for public displays.
21 Dalt. § 14(b)(1) states that (1) during the Holiday Season, only Holiday Displays may be displayed in City Square; (2) Holiday Displays may not be displayed in Dalton Park or Dalton Road; (3) a Holiday Group may erect only one Holiday Display, including religious displays in City Square; and (4) City Square must contain a sign, explaining that Holiday Displays are created and displayed by private, nongovernment groups.
21 Dalt. § 14(b)(2) declares that any Holiday Display may be up to 25 square feet, but for each thousand Contributors to a Holiday Group, the Holiday Display may be an additional five square feet.
21 Dalt. § 14(b)(3) declares that Holiday Displays are to be privately funded unless a Holiday Group spends more than $1,000 per square foot on its Display, in which case “the City will penalize that group” by providing any group that spent between $900–$1,000 on its Display with public funding to match the excess spending on a dollar-for-dollar, per square-foot basis. The public funding is limited by: a $500,000 yearly cap on total public funding; a $50,000 per Holiday Group yearly cap on public funding.
21 Dalt. § 14 (c) provides that before any display may be put up in City Square, Dalton Park, or Dalton Road, it must first be submitted to the Dalton Display Agency to be designated as either a Holiday Display or a non-Holiday Display.
21 Dalt. § 14 (d) declares that the Dalton Display Agency shall: classify every display that is submitted within three business days; ensure that there are no duplicative displays in the City Square during the Holiday Season; recognize any group of Dalton residents that contribute to the creation, assembly, or maintenance of a Holiday Display as a Holiday Group; create and enforce such rules as are necessary to enforce the Ordinance.
The Plaintiffs filed suit in district court, alleging that the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance violates the Establishment Clause and Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the United State Constitution.
The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance does not violate the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause is not violated because the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance has both a primarily secular purpose and secular effect, and does not excessively entangle government with religion; nor would any reasonable observer think that Dalton favored or disfavored religion due to the Ordinance. They also argued that the Freedom of Speech Clause was not offended because Dalton Road and Dalton Park are designated, limited public fora, and because the matching-fund provision does not constitute a substantial burden on the Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech.
The Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance violates the Establishment Clause because other religious Holiday Displays were permitted to be larger than the Karotine Display, and because government money directly subsidized overtly religious Displays. The Plaintiffs also alleged that the Dalton Holiday Display Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause because Karota Holiday Displays were not permitted in Dalton Park or Dalton Road during the Holiday Season, and the matching-funds penalty against Karotine Holiday Display Group in 2012 chilled its speech in 2013.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants. The Plaintiffs appealed both issues to this court: the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
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