Lemon v. Kurzman, 1971.

This case dealt with a Pennsylvania law that gave financial payments to private schools (including parochial schools) to help defray the expenses of textbooks, the salaries of teachers, and other teaching materials for nonreligious (secular) classes.

The court ruled in an 8-1 decision that the Pennsylvania law was in direct violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment. Because the program included aid to parochial schools, the court ruled that it was of direct benefit to the churches that ran these schools, thus violating the establishment clause. It was also found that because of the incredibly close supervision that the law required, it produced an excessive entanglement with religion.

In the majority opinion, the court held that the the 1st amendment was designed to prevent the evils of "sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity."

The case also established what is now known as The Lemon Test, which is a three part litmus test for state programs. It states:

  1. The purpose of the aid must be clearly secular, not religious
  2. Its primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. It must avoid an "excessive entanglement of government with religion."

This test has been used in numerous cases since 1971 in deciding the constitutionality of state laws.

The case was argued on March 3, 1971 and decided on June 28, 1971.

The lawyers in the case were:

Henry W. Sawyer III for the appellants.
J. Shane Creamer for the appellees.
William B. Ball for the appellee schools.

The voting went as follows:

Thurgood Marshall - Majority
Potter Stewart - Majority
Harry A. Blackmun - Majority
John M. Harlan - Majority
Hugo L. Black - Majority
Warren E. Burger - Majority
William O. Douglas - Majority
William J. Brennan Jr. - Majority

Byron R. White - Minority

Voting information, and information about dates of argument/decision and lawyers courtesy of Northwestern University Oyez Project.

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