Freedom of Religion - In the Courts!

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Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971

Pennsylvania and Rhode Island both passed laws that gave state money to parochial and secondary schools. When these laws were challenged, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to create a test to see whether or not these laws were constitutional. This test is now called the “Lemon test,” and it can be used to determine whether or not the government is violating separation of church and state. The laws that were challenged failed this test because they: 1) had a religious purpose, 2) promoted religion and 3) closely involved the government with religion. Because the laws failed all three parts of this test, they were considered unconstitutional and the Supreme Court struck them down.



Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963

In 1963, Donna and Roger Schempp were at high school in Abington, Pa. At the beginning of class each day, the students read the Bible. Believing that this was a violation of separation of church and state, Donna, Roger and their parents sued the school. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that reading the Bible in school on a daily basis was a violation of the separation of church and state because the school was promoting religion. The justices also stated that giving the students a choice whether or not to read was not OK, as it might make students uncomfortable. Public schools and other government offices are supposed to be neutral, neither helping nor hurting religion.



Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 2000

Santa Fe High School in Texas had a tradition of leading the crowd in a student-led prayer before every home varsity football game. To decide whether or not to say the prayer, and who would say it, the students voted. When this process was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled that although the sports games were extracurricular, school-sponsored events cannot promote religion either: “The Constitution demands that schools not force on students the difficult choice between whether or not to attend these games or to risk facing a personally offensive religious ritual.”

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Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987

In Louisiana, a law was passed that if evolution is taught in public schools, then “creation science” (the biblical story of creation) must also be taught. Soon, a group of Louisiana parents, teachers and religious leaders challenged this law, saying it was unconstitutional and violated the separation of church and state. When this argument reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled that the law was, in fact, unconstitutional. Because the law promoted a certain religious belief about the creation theory, they said that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

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