Marsh v. Chambers
|Marsh v. Chambers|
|Argued April 20, 1983
Decided July 5, 1983
|Full case name||Frank Marsh, State Treasurer et al. v. Ernest Chambers|
|Citations||463 U.S. 783 (more)
103 S.Ct. 3330, 77 L.Ed.2d 1019
|Prior history||Injunction granted, 504 F.Supp. 585 (D. Neb. 1980); injunction was affirmed and expounded upon, 675 F.2d 228 (8th Cir. 1982); certiorari granted, 459 U.S. 966 (1982)|
|The practice of hiring a chaplain for the Nebraska state legislature did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.|
|Majority||Burger, joined by White, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor|
|Dissent||Brennan, joined by Marshall|
|U.S. Const. amend. I|
Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that government funding for chaplains was constitutional because of the "unique history" of the United States. Three days before the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791, containing the Establishment clause, the federal legislature authorized hiring a chaplain for opening sessions with prayer.
Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers sued in federal court claiming that the legislature's practice of opening sessions with a prayer offered by a state-supported chaplain was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The district court held that the prayer did not violate the Constitution, but that state support for the chaplain did. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that both practices violated the Constitution.
Question Before the Court
Does paying a chaplain for religious services using taxpayer dollars violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
Decision of the Court
In a 6-3 decision in favor of Marsh, Chief Justice Burger wrote the opinion for the majority. The Chief Justice noted that the position of chaplain has been closely tied to the work of state and federal legislatures. "This unique history leads us to accept the interpretation of the First Amendment draftsmen who saw no real threat to the Establishment Clause arising from a practice of prayer similar to that now challenged."
Justice Brennan, with Justice Marshall joining, wrote in a dissenting opinion, "The Court makes no pretense of subjecting Nebraska's practice of legislative prayer to any of the formal "tests" that have traditionally structured our inquiry under the Establishment Clause. That it fails to do so is, in a sense, a good thing, for it simply confirms that the Court is carving out an exception to the Establishment Clause, rather than reshaping Establishment Clause doctrine to accommodate legislative prayer."
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