(CN) – The 2nd Circuit ordered a church to clear its postal station of religious displays, because they violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state.
The New York-based appeals court said the Establishment Clause violation could easily be remedied by rearranging the office.
“We require no more than that the postal counter be free of religious material, and that visual cues distinguish the space operating as a postal facility from the space functioning as purely private property,” Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote.
The unanimous three-judge panel saw no problem with religious displays in a separate part of the small office, even though those displays included the showing of religious videos on a television monitor.
The panel instructed the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church in Manchester, Conn., to “create and install a barrier in front of the postal counter that is a visual cue and gives a sense of passage from one area of the space into another, thereby delineating space exclusively dedicated to the public function from space dedicated to other things.”
The underlying lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bertram Cooper, a Jewish veteran of World War II and the Korean War, who used the postal counter at the church because it was close to his home. He said the church’s religious displays made him feel like an “unwilling participant in a faith not his own.”
U.S. District Judge Dominic J. Squatrito said the religious displays had to be removed. Because the church is contracted by the government, the judge reasoned, it can’t do anything that “proselytizes or advances religion.”
But the 2nd Circuit drew a line between the public and private functions of the church. “Here, the public functions include the acceptance of mail, the processing of mail and packages for delivery, and the sale of postal goods and services,” Jacobs wrote.
“The postal counter, post office boxes and shelving units must therefore be free of prayer cards and messages and must be cleared of religious material.”