Lemon v. Kurtzman

Following is the case brief for Lemon v. Kurtzman, United States Supreme Court, (1971)

Case summary for Lemon v. Kurtzman:

  • Lemon brought suit against state official Kurtzman, claiming that a state statute providing government funding to non-secular schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
  • the district court dismissed Lemon’s case, in response, Lemon appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court held that the statute violated the three-pronged test, specifically the prong prohibiting excessive government involvement with religion.

Lemon v. Kurtzman Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Rhode Island and Pennsylvania both enacted statutes which provided state aid to non-secular schools. In response, Lemon filed a claim against Kurtzman, alleging the statutes violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Procedural History:

District court granted the state’s motion to dismiss and Lemon appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from funding religious educational institutions.

Issue and Holding:

Do state statutes which provide assistance to non-secular elementary and secondary schools violate the First Amendment? Yes.


The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision.


The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was intended to protect against sponsorship, financial support and active involvement in religious activity. There exists a three-part test in determining whether or not the state statutes in question violate the First Amendment:

  1. Government’s action must have a secular purpose.
  2. Government’s action must neither advance nor prohibit religion.
  3. Government’s action must not result in the excessive government involvement with religion.

If any of the above prongs are violated, the actions are unconstitutional. To determine whether entanglement reaches the level of excessive, the Court must examine the character and purpose of the benefiting institution, nature of the aid provided by the state and the relationship between the religious authority and the government.

Despite the lack of apparent intent of either state’s legislature, the cumulative impact of each program includes the excessive entanglement of the government and religion.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Douglas):

The intrusion of the government into running non-public schools through grants and other funding creates the entanglement prohibited by the Establishment Clause. Non-secular schools are so thoroughly governed by religious ideologies that any public funding supports such doctrines.


Lemon v. Kurtzman is the landmark case from which we get the “Lemon Test.” The government funding of non-secular schools must meet the three-pronged test in order to meet constitutional muster.

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