Freedom of assembly and petition are closely related to freedom of speech, and have been protected in similar ways. Former Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote, "Peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime." Generally, that point of view has prevailed. Freedom of assembly has to be balanced with other people's rights if it disrupts public order, traffic flow, freedom to go about normal business or peace and quiet. Usually, a group must apply for a permit, but a government must grant a permit provided that officials have the means to prevent major disruptions.
The Court’s decisions in this arena are often closely divided. They also illustrate that the Court has declined to take “a rigid, absolutist view” of the separation of church and state. In Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Court allowed display of a nativity scene surrounded by other holiday decorations in the heart of a shopping district, stating that it “engenders a friendly community spirit of good will in keeping with the season.” But in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union (1989), a different majority of Justices held that the display of a nativity scene by itself at the top of the grand stairway in a courthouse violated the Establishment Clause because it was “indisputably religious—indeed sectarian.” In McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union (2005), the Court held that a prominent display of the Ten Commandments at the county courthouse, which was preceded by an official’s description of the Ten Commandments as the “embodiment of ethics in Christ,” was a religious display that was unconstitutional. The same day, it upheld a Ten Commandments monument, which was donated by a secular organization dedicated to reducing juvenile delinquency and surrounded by other monuments on the spacious statehouse grounds. Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Only one Justice was in the majority in both cases.