Lemon v. Kurtzman Case Brief

Summary of Lemon v. Kurtzman

Relevant Facts: This case was heard alongside two others, both of which focused on the provision of public funds to church-related educational materials. This particular case concerned Pennsylvania state law (the concurrent cases focused on Rhode Island law), in particular, the 1968 Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which allowed the state to reimburse predominantly Catholic schools for teaching secular subjects with secular materials paid for by taxpayer funds.

Issue: The prevailing constitutional question was whether the Pennsylvania and Rhode Island statutes violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by providing taxpayer funds in the form of financial aid to “church- related educational institutions" (sacred institutions)?

Holding: The Supreme Court unanimously found that the laws did in fact violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Majority Opinion Reasoning: The Court reasoned asserted the so-called Lemon test. Moreover, it reasoned that in order for laws to be constitutional, they must be secular in nature and have a “secular legislative purpose." Laws may not “advance nor inhibit" the establishment of a particular faith or give weight to a particular faith via legislation. The Court ruled that by providing taxpayer funds to religious (namely Catholic schools), the State inculcated and insulated religious schools from State scrutiny, while nevertheless providing taxpayer funds.

Conclusion: This case was significant because it produced the Lemon Test, which is a test that outlines requirements for legislation that pertain to religion. The test is germane to constitutional issues concerning legislation that addresses religion and therefore revolves around the Establishment Clause.

The Lemon Test is a three-pronged test in which a law can exist outside of these prongs, but if any or all of these criteria are affirmed, the law in question must be deemed unconstitutional. The Lemon Test can be expressed as follows:

“Three … tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion."

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