CRANSTON, R.I. — Cranston's controversial holiday display did not violate the First Amendment rights of a resident who challenged it in court, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The decision yesterday by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said the resident, Grace C. Osediacz, did not have legal standing to sue the city because she was not directly harmed by a policy that restricted the items that could be included in the display.
"Any way the pie is sliced, the plaintiff still has to show some reasonable possibility that she would be subject to the constitutionally defective action ... she has not done so," Justice Bruce Selya wrote in the decision.
Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey invited the community in November 2003 to decorate the front lawn of City Hall with ornaments for the holiday season.
The display included a menorah, inflatable snowmen, a creche and more than a dozen plastic pink flamingos in Santa hats.
The appeals court decision overturns an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge William Smith, who said the city's policy of deciding what could be placed on the lawn violated First Amendment free-speech rights. But Smith also said the display did not breach the separation between church and state.
The Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Cranston on behalf of Osediacz in December 2003.
The city has since changed its policy by putting up its own holiday display with both religious and secular symbols of the season.
"It was important for us to challenge Judge Smith's decision so that we don't have roving litigants challenging every city decision," Thomas Marcelle, a lawyer who argued the case for Laffey, told The Providence Journal.
"It's important in the sense that it shows that to challenge a city policy, you have to be hurt by it," he added.