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Lemon v. Kurtzman

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on 18 November 2013

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Transcript of Lemon v. Kurtzman

Background
In 1968, Pennsylvania passed the Non-public Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. This act allowed local government to fund educational programs which taught religion based lessons, studies, and activities. The act also provided additional funding to the private school teachers who taught religious based materials.

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)
The Arguments
While Alton Lemon argued that the Non-Public Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968 violated the 1st Amendment, David Kurtzman claimed that not funding the religious activities of these schools was unconstitutional because that would violate the teachers and students' freedom of religion.
Getting to the Supreme Court
Lemon v. Kurtzman was not able to be easily decided based on the precedent set by prior cases- which had conflicting views on states supporting private, religious education.
Decision
The Majority Opinion, written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, stated that laws passed supporting private religious schools violated the 1st Amendment establishment clause and were therefore unconstitutional.
The justices ruled 8-0 for the Majority opinion, winning Lemon the case. The only justice who did not vote was Thurgood Marshall, who did not participate.
The Lemon Test
A historical outcome of Lemon v Kurtzman is the so-called "Lemon Test" which details requirements for future legislation concerning religion. The Lemon Test sets out three "prongs" for this future legislation-
-Purpose Prong: Government action must have a secular legislative purpose
-Effect Prong: Government action must NOT have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion
-Entanglement Prong: must NOT result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion
Previous Supreme Court Cases
Everson v. Board of Education: (1947) decided that it is constitutional for states to assist student transportation to religious schools

Walz v. Tax Commision: (1970) discouraged "excessive entanglement" in church v. state cases
Original Case
Lemon v. Kurtzman was first heard in a three-judge district court, which was followed by two appeals and eventually the Supreme Court.
Lemon v Kurtzman was heard in March, 1971 and then decided that June under the Burger Court.
In the Supreme Court
The case began when Alton Lemon, a Pennsylvania instructor, filed a case against David Kurtzman- the Superintendent of the Department of Instruction in the state of Pennsylvanina. Lemon claimed that the law violated the 1st Amendment of the Constitution because it went against the separation of church and state.
Alton Lemon
David Kurtzman
Since then....
The Lemon Test has been examined by judges such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and has been supported each time.

In McCreary v American Civil Liberties Union the Supreme Court decided against overturning the Lemon Test and has used it in cases such as Santa Fe Independent School District v Doe in 2000.
Full transcript