Lemon v. Kurtzman
Lemon v. Kurtzman was a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case from Pennsylvania that struck down some state laws allowing public schools to redirect funds and materials to private schools. The court’s decision established a working test (the Lemon Test) regarding the constitutionality of legislation involving religion.
This 1971 Lemon case clearly demonstrated a violation the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it showed that Pennsylvania’s Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Education Act mixed government (public school) with religion (private religion-based school). Through the Act, public school administrators distributed funding to teachers in private schools established for religions (primarily catholic). This financial support was deemed unconstitutional because it was in effect the establishment or support of a religious faith by taxpayer dollars.
The Lemon Test holds that a state law can neither support nor inhibit religion and that such a law may not create “entanglement” of legislation and religion.
Several subsequent cases tested the Lemon Test but it has stood the test of time. In the Texas case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the public school district had a long history of allowing organized religious groups to distribute material and mingle in public schools, including handing out Bibles and condoning prayer prior to sporting events like football games. Parents protested plans to have prayer at graduation ceremonies, for which the school district planned a secret ballot among students to determine if prayer should take place at the ceremony, and planned a nondenominational invocation. An appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court determined that prayer at football games was illegal but the plaintiffs pushed on, seeking to have prayer banned at all school functions.
The Supreme Court only weighed the constitutionality of prayer at football games. Dissenting opinions of three conservative justices noted that the rule “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”
Another infamous case of religion sanctioned by schools was Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005, otherwise known as the Dover Panda Trial. It started when school board members in Dover, Penn. passed a rule that required teachers to read a statement to ninth grade students about Intelligent design as a quasi scientific alternative to evolution that was taught in classrooms. The case was brought before a judge in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania, where the judge found the policy in violation of the Establishment Clause by using the Lemon Test. The school board paid more than $1 million in damages.