Epperson v. Arkansas Case Brief

Facts of the Case

While study of religions and of the Bible from a literary and historic viewpoint, presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, need not collide with theprohibition, a state may not adopt programs or practices in its public schools or colleges which aid or oppose any religion. This prohibition is absolute. It forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition of theory that is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma. The test is: What are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution.


To prove a criminal violation of the federal witness tampering statute when a defendant allegedly kills a witness, must the government prove that the victim would have provided information regarding a crime to a court or a law enforcement officer?


“Yes. Seven members of the Court held that the statute violated the Establishment clause. Writing for the Court, Justice Abe Fortas stated that the law had been based solely on the beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, who felt that evolutionary theories directly contradicted the biblical account of Creation. This use of state power to prohibit the teaching of material objectionable to a particular sect ammounted to an unconstitutional Establishment of religion. Justice Fortas wrote, “The State’s undoubted right to prescribe the curriculum for its public schools does not carry with it the right to prohibit, on pain of criminal penalty, the teaching of a scientific theory or doctrine where that prohibition is based upon reasons that violate the First Amendment.” The two other members of the Court concurred in the result, writing that it violated either the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (because it was unconstitutionally vague) or the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Case Information

Citation: 393 US 97 (1968)
Argued: Oct 16, 1968
Decided: Nov 12, 1968
Case Brief: 1968