Lemon v. Kurtzman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Lemon test)
Jump to: navigation, search
Lemon v. Kurtzman
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 3, 1971
Decided June 28, 1971
Full case name Alton T. Lemon, et al. v. David H. Kurtzman, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Pennsylvania, et al.; John R. Earley, et al. v. John DiCenso, et al.; William P. Robinson, Jr. v. John DiCenso, et al.
Citations 403 U.S. 602 (more)
91 S. Ct. 2105; 29 L. Ed. 2d 745; 1971 U.S. LEXIS 19
Prior history 310 F. Supp. 35 (E.D. Pa. 1969); 316 F. Supp. 112 (D.R.I. 1970)
Subsequent history On remand to 348 F.Supp. 300 (E.D. Pa. 1972), aff'd, 411 U.S. 192 (1973)
For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and also must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Burger, joined by Black, Douglas, Harlan, Stewart, Marshall, Blackmun
Concurrence Douglas, joined by Black, Marshall (who filed a separate statement)
Concurrence Brennan
Concur/dissent White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I; R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. 16-51-1 et seq. (Supp. 1970); Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, §§ 5601-5609 (Supp. 1971)

Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Pennsylvania's 1968 Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act (represented through David Kurtzman), which allowed the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to reimburse nonpublic schools (most of which were Catholic) for the salaries of teachers who taught secular material in these nonpublic schools, secular textbooks and secular instructional materials, violated the Establishment Clause 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 elementary schools by 15%. As in Pennsylvania, most of these funds were spent on Catholic schools.

Lemon test[edit]

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

  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose; (Purpose Prong)
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; (Effect Prong)
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion. (Entanglement Prong)

If any of these 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 those 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.[1]

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.[1]

Recent Use[edit]

Conservative Justices such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have scrutinized the application of the Lemon test.[2] The Supreme Court itself has applied the Lemon test as recently as 2000 in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe,[3] while in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union the court did not overturn the Lemon test notwithstanding it was urged to do so by the petitioner.[4]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alley, Robert S. (1999). The Constitution & Religion: Leading Supreme Court Cases on Church and State. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. pp. 82–96. ISBN 1-57392-703-1. 
  • Kritzer, Herbert M.; Richards, Mark J. (2003). "Jurisprudential Regimes and Supreme Court Decisionmaking: The Lemon Regime and Establishment Clause Cases". Law & Society Review 37 (4): 827–840. doi:10.1046/j.0023-9216.2003.03704005.x. 


  1. ^ a b c 403 U.S. 602 (Text of the opinion from Findlaw.com)
  2. ^ 508 U.S. 384 (1993)
  3. ^ 530 U.S. 290 (2000)
  4. ^ 545 U.S. 844 (2005)