Religious Liberty Resources

EXPLORE THE HISTORY, LAW, AND THEORY OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Establishment

330 US 1 (1947)
Vinson Court

Everson v. Board of Education (1947)

The Court examined whether a New Jersey law allowing reimbursements to parents who sent their children on buses operated by the public transportation system to public and private schools, including parochial Catholic schools, was indirect aid to religion and thus a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the law was constitutional, because the transportation reimbursements were provided to all students regardless of religion. Also, the reimbursements were made directly to parents and not to any religious institution. This case also applied the Establishment Clause to the actions of state governments.

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370 US 421
Warren Court

Engel v. Vitale (1962)

The Court looked at whether the daily reading of a state-composed nondenominational prayer in school violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In a 6-1 decision, the Court ruled that New York’s official prayer to begin the school day was an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause.

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374 U.S. 203
Warren Court

School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp (1963)

The Court considered whether a Pennsylvania law and policy of the Abington School District requiring public-school students to participate in classroom exercises involving daily Bible verse reading violated the religious freedom of students under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In an 8-1 decision, the Court found that the Pennsylvania law and school-district practice violated the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

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393 U.S. 97
Warren Court

Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)

The Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas law that forbade public-supported schools from teaching evolution. The Court argued that because this law was based on fundamentalist Christian convictions violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

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403 U.S. 602
Burger Court

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)

The Court considered whether a Pennsylvania law reimbursing religious schools with state funds for textbooks and teacher salaries for non-public, non-secular schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In an 8-0 decision, the Court set out a three-pronged test for the constitutionality of a statute, by which a statute is constitutional if: (1) it has a primarily secular purpose; (2) its principal effect neither aids nor inhibits religion; and (3) government and religion are not excessively entangled. On this basis, the Court struck down the Pennsylvania law as in violation of the Establishment Clause, finding that the statute constituted an excessive government entanglement with religion.

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Larson v. Valente (1982)
456 U.S. 228
Burger Court

Larson v. Valente (1982)

The Court considered the constitutionality of a Minnesota law requiring religious and nonreligious organizations that rely on solicitations for at least 50 percent of their budgets to file extensive reports to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Court ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause by favoring denominations. The law also did not serve a compelling government interest and therefore failed the Lemon test.

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Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
482 U.S. 578
Rehnquist Court

Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)

The Court examined whether a Louisiana law that forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools unless accompanied by instruction in “creation science” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the Louisiana statute violated the Establishment Clause, because it failed all parts of the 3-pronged test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), in that it: (prong 1) lacked a clear secular purpose, (prong 2) endorsed religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind, and (prong 3) entangled the interests of church and state by seeking “to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.”

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County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989)
492 U.S. 573
Rehnquist Court

County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989)

The Court looked at whether Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, violated the Establishment clause by the county’s public holiday display of a Christmas nativity scene (creche) and the city’s display of an 18-foot-tall Chanukah menorah next to a 45-foot decorated Christmas tree. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the creche display was unconstitutional, but the menorah was permissible. The creche was displayed alone in the courthouse and included an angel holding a banner that said “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Latin for “Glory to God in the highest”). The Court said that by including that message and displaying the creche with nothing around it to detract from this religious message, the county was not just celebrating Christmas as a national holiday—which in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) was ruled permissible despite the holiday’s religious origins—but also was “endorsing a patently Christian message: Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ,” and thus violated the Establishment Clause. The city’s menorah and decorated Christmas tree were displayed just outside the City-County building, with a sign at the foot of the tree with the mayor’s name and text declaring the city’s “salute to liberty.” The Court held that by including the menorah with the tree and the sign saluting liberty, “the city conveyed a message of pluralism and freedom of belief” and thus did not violate the Establishment Clause.

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