Court Upholds Rehoboth City Policy Regarding Unattended Private Displays on City Property
On December 11, 2020, Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware issued a decision denying a motion filed by the Knights of Columbus Star of the Sea Council in which the Knights requested that the Court issue a preliminary injunction requiring the City of Rehoboth Beach to allow the Knights of Columbus to display a crèche on City-owned property.
The Knights claimed that the City had enacted an unconstitutional “no-religious-displays policy” for City-owned property and that Rehoboth was treating the Knights differently because of its religious affiliation. The City denied that there was ever a “no-religious-displays” policy or any policy on holiday displays until November 5, 2020, when the City issued a policy prohibiting “all private holiday displays on City-owned property for the 2020 holiday season.” On December 7, 2020, the Rehoboth Beach Commissioners revised the November 5 policy to prohibit all private entities from erecting any unattended displays on City-owned property, year-round, including at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand and on the Boardwalk.
Because of the December 7 adoption of Rehoboth Beach’s display policy barring all unattended displays, the Court found that the Knights request for an injunction in relation to the alleged “no-religious displays” policy was moot because it had been replaced by the November 5 and December 7 policies, if it existed at all. The Court also found that the December 7 policy treated all private persons, groups, and organizations equally, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation, and that nothing in the City’s current policy singled out the prohibition of any displays on the basis of religion. Although the decision resolves an important component of the litigation, it does not entirely resolve the case. Reacting to the Court decision, City Manager Sharon Lynn noted the City has a long history of support for religious diversity and inclusiveness. “It’s in that spirit of inclusiveness that we recognize the Knights right to have this matter decided in a Court of Law. We are, however, grateful that today’s favorable decision validates the City’s commitment to the equal treatment of all individuals,” she said. Read the Judge’s Opinion