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Law School Case Brief

Lemon v. Kurtzman - 403 U.S. 602, 91 S. Ct. 2105 (1971)


Three tests gleaned from the Supreme Court Establishment Clause cases are: 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. In order to determine whether the government entanglement with religion is excessive, a court must examine the character and purposes of the institutions that are benefited, the nature of the aid that the state provides, and the resulting relationship between the government and the religious authority.


Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, §§ 5601 - 5609 provided financial support to nonpublic elementary and secondary schools by reimbursing the cost of teachers' salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials in specified secular subjects. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 16-51-1 et seq., the state paid directly to teachers in nonpublic elementary schools a supplement of 15 percent of their annual salary. Under each statute, state aid had been given to church-related educational institutions. In a consolidated case from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and from the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, citizens and taxpayers challenged the said statutes as violative of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rhode Island District Court held that the R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 16-51-1 et seq. was unconstitutional. Pennsylvania District Court dismissed the complaint regarding Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, §§ 5601 - 5609.


Were the religion clauses of the First Amendment violated by state statutes providing state aid to church-related elementary and secondary schools, and to teachers therein, with regard to instruction in secular matters?




The Supreme Court of the United States held that both statutes were unconstitutional, affirming the Rhode Island District Court's conclusion that the Act fostered excessive entanglement between government and religion, as evident in the way the program required the government to examine a school's records to determine how much of the total expenditures was attributable to secular education and how much to religious activity. Similarly, the Court reversed the Pennsylvania District Court's order that dismissed appellant taxpayers' complaint under a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)motion, finding that the Pennsylvania statute had the facial defect of providing state financial aid directly to church-related schools.

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