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Lemon v. Kurtzman

Lemon v. Kurtzman
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
</td></tr><tr><th colspan="2" style="text-align:center;background-color: #99c0ff; white-space:nowrap">Case opinions</th></tr><tr><th scope="row" style="text-align:left">Majority</th><td>

Burger, joined by Black, Douglas, Harlan, Stewart, Marshall, Blackmun</td></tr><tr><th scope="row" style="text-align:left">Concurrence</th><td> Douglas, joined by Black, Marshall (who filed a separate statement)</td></tr><tr><th scope="row" style="text-align:left">Concurrence</th><td> Brennan</td></tr><tr><th scope="row" style="text-align:left">Concur/dissent</th><td> White</td></tr><tr><th colspan="2" style="text-align:center;background-color: #99c0ff; white-space:nowrap">Laws applied</th></tr><tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align:center"> 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)</td></tr></table> Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971),[1] was a case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court ruled unanimously in an 8-0 decision that Pennsylvania's Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act (represented through David Kurtzman) from 1968 transgressed the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The act allowed the Superintendent of Public Schools to reimburse private schools (mostly Catholic) for the salaries of teachers who taught in these private schools, from public textbooks and with public instructional materials. 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 private elementary schools by 15%. As in Pennsylvania, most of these funds were spent on Catholic schools.

Lemon test

The Court's decision in this case established the "Lemon test" (named after the lead plaintiff Alton Lemon),[2] which details the requirements for legislation concerning religion. It is threefold:

  1. The statute must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religious affairs. (also known as the Entanglement Prong)
    1. Factors.
      1. Character and purpose of institution benefited.
      2. Nature of aid the state provides.
      3. Resulting relationship between government and religious authority.
  2. The statute must not advance nor inhibit religious practice (also known as the Effect Prong)
  3. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose. (also known as the Purpose Prong)

If any of these prongs are 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 private 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

Conservative Justices such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have scrutinized the application of the Lemon test.[3] The Supreme Court itself has applied the Lemon test as recently as 2000 in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe,[4] 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.[5]

See also

Further reading

  • 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
  2. ^ Liptak, Adam (2013-05-26). "Alton T. Lemon, civil rights activist, dies at 84". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-15. 
  3. ^ 508 U.S. 384 (1993)
  4. ^ 530 U.S. 290 (2000)
  5. ^ 545 U.S. 844 (2005)