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Law School Case Brief

Edwards v. Aguillard - 482 U.S. 578, 107 S. Ct. 2573 (1987)

Rule:

The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law respecting an establishment of religion. The Court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs. 

Facts:

A Louisiana statute required the state's public schools to give "balanced treatment" to "creation science" and "evolution science." The statute defined "creation science" and "evolution science" as the scientific evidences for creation and evolution and inferences from those scientific evidences, but no definition was given for either creation or evolution. The statute did not require a school to teach either creation science or evolution science, but provided that if either one was taught, the other must also be taught.  The stated purpose of the statute was to protect "academic freedom." The statute was challenged as invalid, under both the First Amendment's establishment of religion clause and the Louisiana state constitution, by appellees, parents of children attending Louisiana public schools, Louisiana teachers, and religious leaders, who sought an injunction and declaratory relief in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The trial court granted appellees' motion for summary judgment and the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court noted probably jurisdiction and affirmed the decision of the appellate court. 

Issue:

Did the Louisiana statute violate the Fist Amendment's establishment of religion clause?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court found that the Act advanced a religious doctrine by requiring either banishment of the theory of evolution or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejected evolution in its entirety. The Act violated the Establishment Clause because it sought to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.

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