Lemon v. Kurtzman

From Academic Kids

In Lemon vs. Kurtzman, Template:Ussc, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that had held that Pennsylvania's 1968 Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which allowed the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to reimburse nonpublic schools (most of which were Catholic) for teachers' salaries, textbooks and instructional materials, did not violate the Establishment or Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment. The decision also upheld a decision of the First Circuit which had struck down the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act providing state funds to supplement salaries at nonpublic elemetary schools by 15%. As in Pennsylvania, most of these funds were spent on Catholic schools.

The "Lemon test"

The Court's decision in this case established the "Lemon test", which details the requirements for United States legislation concerning religion. It consists of three prongs:

  1. The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of the government and religion.

If any of these three prongs is violated, the government's action is deemed unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The act stipulated that "eligible teachers must teach only courses offered in the public schools, using only materials used in the public schools, and must agree not to teach courses in religion." Still, a three-judge panel found 25% of the State's elementary students attended nonpublic schools, about 95% of the these attended Roman Catholic schools, and the sole beneficiaries under the act were 250 teachers at Roman Catholic schools.

"The court found that the parochial school system was "an integral part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church," and held that the Act fostered "excessive entanglement" between government and religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause."
"Held: Both statutes are unconstitutional under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as the cumulative impact of the entire relationship arising under the statutes involves excessive entanglement between government and religion."

Later developments

Lemon 's future is somewhat uncertain. Sustained criticism by conservative Justices such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, lack of a clear reaffirmation of the central tenets of Lemon over the years since the 1980s, and inconsistent application in major Establishment Clause cases has led some legal commentators and lower court judges to believe that Lemon's days are numbered, and that the Court has implicitly left the decision of whether to apply the test in a specific case up to lower courts. This has resulted in a patchwork pattern of enforcement in circuit courts across the nation; while some courts apply Lemon in all or most cases, others apply it in few or none. The Supreme Court itself has applied the Lemon test as recently as Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, Template:Ussc.

Reformulation of the Lemon test will be one of the points of consideration in the upcoming McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky. [1] (http://www.lc.org/pressrelease/2004/nr120804.htm)

See also

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