In December of 1993, members of the Ku Klux Klan filled out an application to place an unattended cross in Capital Square, the statehouse plaza in Columbus. Throughout the years, private groups had been permitted to erect holiday displays, such as Christmas trees and menorahs, in the plaza. However, the Review Board denied the Klan’s request, claiming that displaying a religious symbol in a public forum would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The ACLU argued the case on behalf of Vincent J. Pinette, a leader of the Ohio KKK.

In its landmark decision, the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that the Board must allow the Klan to put the cross up. The Court based its decision on three factors: Capital Square was a traditional public forum open to all without any policy against free-standing displays; the Klan is a private organization protected by the First Amendment; and the Board had failed to show that the display of the cross represented an endorsement of Christianity by the government. Ultimately, the Supreme Court affirmed this decision after hearing arguments by ACLU volunteer attorney Benson Wolman.

Read the decision on FindLaw.

Date filed

December 9, 1993