Church and State
Church and State Terms
Get down with the lingo.
Abington School District V. SchemppIn this 1963 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania law requiring the reading of Biblical scriptures in public schools was a violation of the establishment clause. The Court rejected the state’s argument that the daily exercise was designed to teach moral values, not religious doctrine.
Agostini V. FeltonIn this 1997 case, the United States Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision (Aguilar v. Felton) that a New York City program designed to provide tutoring and remedial education services to low-income children could not deliver these service on a religious school campus. Holding that allowing public employees to provide tutoring on a religious school campus would not constitute a "symbolic union" of church and state, the Court held that the federally-funded program could deliver its services on a religious school campus without violating the establishment clause.
Cantwell V. ConnecticutIn this 1940 case, the United States Supreme Court held that a local solicitation ordinance violated the First Amendment rights of two Jehovah’s Witnesses. In reaching this decision, the Court "incorporated" the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment making its terms applicable to the state governments as well as the federal government.
Child Benefit TheoryFirst advanced in reference to the First Amendment, by the United States Supreme Court in 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education, the child benefit theory is one of the primary tests for evaluating various forms of public aid to religious schools. If the student, rather than the religious school, is the primary beneficiary of the state aid, such as state financing for secular textbooks and other materials, and publicly funded transportation on public buses, then the aid does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Committee For Public Education And Religious Liberty V. NyquistIn this 1973 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a New York program that reimbursed the parents of private school students for tuition expenses violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Only low-income families qualified. The funds were derived from general tax revenues.
Doctrine Of IncorporationThis legal doctrine states that the restrictions and demands placed on the federal government by the Bill of Rights apply selectively to the states as well. Even though initially these restrictions and demands were addressed only to the federal government, they have been extended to the states by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment declares that the states may not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Court has held that the protections extended under the Bill of Rights are central to our understanding of liberty and therefore "fundamental" to the states’ guarantee of due process of law.
Edwards V. AguillardIn this 1987 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. The Court ruled that the law failed to pass the criteria established in Lemon v. Kurtzman (the "Lemon Test")—that is, the law advanced a religious objective and it led to the excessive entanglement of church and state by mandating "the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose."3
Employment Division V. SmithIn this 1990 case, the United States Supreme Court upheld a government refusal to provide unemployment benefits to two men fired for using drugs. The fired employees claimed that their use of peyote was part of a Native American religious ritual and therefore they were protected from retaliatory action by the First Amendment. But the Court held that "if prohibiting the exercise of religion . . . is not the object . . . but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended."4 In other words, if a law is generally defensible and its purposes are valid, an individual’s religious reasons for violating that law do not entitle him to any extraordinary protection from the consequences.
Engel V. VitaleIn this 1962 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Regents’ Prayer, recited daily in New York public schools, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Despite claims that the prayer was denominationally neutral and that students could choose to remain silent or leave the room, the Court held that in composing an "official prayer" and coordinating a daily religious observance, the state had violated the First Amendment.
Epperson V. ArkansasIn this 1968 case, the United States Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas state law that prohibited the teaching of Darwinian evolution. The Court held that the First Amendment requires government neutrality on questions of religion and overturned the Arkansas State Supreme Court that had ruled that the state’s law represented a legitimate exercise of its authority to determine school curriculum.
Equal Access Act Of 1984This federal law requires public high schools to permit student religious groups to meet on school grounds just like any other student group.
Established ChurchAn established church is designated as the official church of the state and/or receives financial support from the government. During America’s colonial period most colonies had an established church. Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish its state church; it did so in 1833.
Establishment ClauseThe establishment clause of the First Amendment specifies that Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." In the most basic terms, this means that Congress can not identify an official or national church, or collect taxes or provide public money to support a specific religion.
Everson V. Board Of Education, Township Of EwingIn this 1947 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey’s law subsidizing the transportation of students to Catholic schools on public buses was not a violation of the establishment clause. Although the Court applied a restrictive interpretation of allowable state aid to religious schools, it held that transportation, like police and fire protection, advanced the public welfare, and that the child, not the religious school, was the primary beneficiary of the aid. Therefore the state’s practice did not violate the First Amendment.
Faith-Based And Community InitiativesIntroduced in 2001 by President George W. Bush, this program funnels federal dollars to church-affiliated organizations that address public needs such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation and domestic violence. Critics have argued that this represents a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
First AmendmentRatified in 1791, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."5
Free Exercise ClauseThe free exercise clause of the First Amendment specifies that Congress may not pass laws "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. In the most basic terms, this means that Congress may not interfere with the manner in which a person chooses to worship.
General AssessmentFirst proposed by Virginia in 1776, a general assessment was tax collected by the state and distributed to the churches identified by individual taxpayers. It was proposed as an alternative to the older practice in which states provided public support to only one church.
Kitzmiller V. DoverIn this 2005 case, a United States District Court ruled that a Pennsylvania school district’s "intelligent design policy" violated the First Amendment. Under this policy, district teachers were required to inform students of the "gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory," and they were required to introduce "other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design."
Lemon TestThis is the criteria established by the 1971 United States Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman for determining whether a form of public aid to religious schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. To be constitutional, the aid must 1) advance a secular objective, 2) neither advance nor inhibit religion, and 3) not lead to the excessive entanglement of government and religion. The first two criteria had been introduced earlier; the third represented a new legal test for a form of government aid.
Lemon V. KurtzmanIn this 1971 case, the United States Supreme Court clarified the standard for determining whether a form of public aid to religious schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. To be constitutional the aid must 1) advance a secular objective, 2) neither advance nor inhibit religion, and 3) not lead to the excessive entanglement of government and religion. The first two criteria had been established earlier; the third represented a new legal test for a form of government aid.
McLean V. Arkansas Board Of EducationIn this 1982 case, a United States District Court struck down an Arkansas law requiring that "evolution-science" and "creation-science" be given "equal treatment" in the classroom. The Court rejected Arkansas’ claim that "creation-science" was science and held that the purpose of the Arkansas law was to advance religion and was therefore impermissible.
Mitchell V. HelmsIn this United States Supreme Court case decided in 2000, the Court affirmed the constitutionality of a Louisiana state program that provided books, computers, lab equipment, televisions, and video tape recorders to religious schools, thus broadening the range of permissible state assistance to religious schools.
Mueller V AllenIn this 1983 case, the United States Supreme Court decided that a Minnesota tax deduction for school tuition, transportation, books, and supplies was allowable because both public and private school parents could benefit. The Court acknowledged that tuition-paying parents of religious school children reaped the largest benefits, but the Court argued that "whatever unequal effect may be attributed to the statutory classification can fairly be regarded as a rough return for the benefits . . . provided to the State and all taxpayers by parents sending their children to parochial schools."6
Regents’ PrayerThe New York Board of Regents wrote the following "denominationally neutral" prayer and required its daily recitation in the state’s public schools "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country." In 1962, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in Engel v. Vitale, that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Reynolds V. United StatesIn this 1879 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that George Reynolds’ religious "duties" did not protect him from prosecution under federal anti-polygamy laws. Reynolds claimed that since his Mormon religion sanctioned polygamy, the First Amendment shielded him from prosecution. But the Court held that while his right to religious belief was absolute, the government had a responsibility to curb religious practices that conflicted with the broader interests of the community. Polygamy, the Court argued, was an indefensible religious practice and therefore his conviction stood.
Santa Fe Independent School District V. DoeIn this 2000 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Santa Fe High School practice of conducting a prayer, led by a student-elected chaplain, before football games was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Even though the school district modified the practice by holding a second election that asked the students if they wanted to hold these public prayers, the Court decided that the practice still represented a form of state sanctioned religious coercion that violated the rights of the dissenting students.
Selman V. Cobb CountyIn this 2005 case, a United States District Court ruled that the stickers placed on science books by a Georgia school district stating that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" represented a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Sloan V. LemonIn this 1973 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania program that reimbursed the parents of private school students for tuition expenses violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The funds were derived from a cigarette tax.
Treaty Of TripoliNegotiated under the administration of President George Washington and ratified in 1797, this treaty pledged American friendship with the Muslim nation. In doing so, it explicitly declared that "the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."7
Wallace V. JaffreeIn this 1985 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an Alabama law authorizing public school teachers to hold a minute of silence for "meditation or voluntary prayer" violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that the Alabama statute failed the Lemon Test by advancing a religious, rather than a secular, purpose.
Wisconsin V. YoderIn this 1972 case, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the refusal of Amish parent to send their children to school until the age of sixteen, as required by law, was protected by the First Amendment.
Zelman V. Simmons-HarrisIn this 2002 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Cleveland’s school voucher program did not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that since the program addressed a legitimate secular purpose of improving the educational options of poor children within an underperforming school system and since the vouchers, in the form of scholarships up to $2250, were made available to a large category of people who were then free to direct this money to the religious or non-religious school of their choice, the government program was neutral on religion and therefore not in violation of the First Amendment.
Zobrest V. Catalina Foothills School DistrictIn this 1993 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the district could provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf child attending a Catholic high school without violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Zorach V. ClausenIn this 1952 case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that New York’s "release time" program, which allowed public school students to leave school early in order to attend religion classes, was permissible because the religious instruction took place off school grounds. In an earlier case, McCollum v. Board of Education, the Court had ruled an Illinois release time program unconstitutional because the religious instruction occurred on public school grounds.
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