The Lemon Test and Different Views on the Establishment Clause

Classified in Philosophy and ethics

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What are the Three Prongs of the Lemon Test?

  • (1) It must have a "secular legislative purpose"
  • (2) Neutral
  • (3) Avoid an "excessive government entanglement with religion."
    • Establishment Clause prevents the government from creating an official church, from preferring one faith over another, and from discriminating against non-believers.

Different Ways to View the Establishment Clause and What Was the Only Reason...

  • Accommodationist: According to the "accommodationist view," government needs religion to instill the moral values required for maintaining civil order. Modern-day accommodationists also argue that religion is part of the national heritage, and adds solemnity and dignity to civic events. Accordingly, accommodationists contend that government should encourage religious behavior and make space for religion in the public square.
  • Separationists: Who advocate the "separationist" view say yes it does; that government must be completely neutral on the issue of faith. Separationists contend that religion belongs exclusively in the private sphere, and that it is not the business of government whether its citizens are religious or not. When the "wall of separation" is breached, separationists argue, conflicts result, the rights of nonbelievers are trampled, and the autonomy of religious organizations is threatened.
    • Want a wall between church and state (as high as possible)

What Did O'Connor Suggest in Lynch That You Do About the Lemon Test (Coercism/Endorsement)

  • Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion particularly evinces an accommodationist view because her proposed modification of the Lemon test allows state action that effectively advances religion. This Note concludes that the Lynch majority's arguments in favor of the creche’s constitutionality are unpersuasive and that the decision justifies other governmental displays of religious symbols."

Lynch v. Donnelly

  • Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading "Seasons Greetings," and a nativity scene. The creche had been included in the display for over 40 years.
  • The Court upheld a city-sponsored nativity scene in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Chief Justice Burger’s majority opinion barely mentioned the Lemon test. Again Burger relied on history and the fact that the crèche had become for many a “neutral harbinger of the holiday season,” rather than a symbol of Christianity.
  • Depicted the historical origins of the Holiday and had "legitimate secular purposes."

County of Allegheny v. ACLU and How It Was Resolved, One Is Coercive (Nativity Scene) v. Noncoercive (Menorah and Tree)

  • Coercive: nativity scene conveyed a religious message
    • County indicated its endorsement of that message
    • Violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • Noncoercive: Christmas tree and menorah display
    • Simply a recognition of cultural diversity

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