Lemon v. Kurtzman Case Brief

Facts of the case

Both Pennsylvania and Rhode Island adopted statutes that provided for the state to pay for aspects of non-secular, non-public education. The Pennsylvania statute was passed in 1968 and provided funding for non-public elementary and secondary school teachers’ salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials for secular subjects. Rhode Island’s statute was passed in 1969 and provided state financial support for non-public elementary schools in the form of supplementing 15% of teachers’ annual salaries.The appellants in the Pennsylvania case represented citizens and taxpayers in Pennsylvania who believed that the statute violated the separation of church and state described in the First Amendment. Appellant Lemon also had a child in Pennsylvania public school. The district court granted the state officials’ motion to dismiss the case. In the Rhode Island case, the appellees were citizens and tax payers of Rhode Island who sued to have the statute in question declared unconstitutional by arguing that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The district court found in favor of the appellees and held that the statute violated the First Amendment.

Why is the case important?

The state reimburses parochial schools for certain expenses associated with the education of its children.


Is it constitutional for the state to provide financial assistance to religious schools for the cost of teaching secular subjects?


No. The statutes result in excessive entanglement between the government and religion. Excessive entanglement is determined by the character and purpose of the institution benefited, the nature of the aid given, and the resulting relationship between the government and church.


The Supreme Court of the United States held that both statutes were unconstitutional, affirming the Rhode Island District Court’s conclusion that the Act fostered excessive entanglement between government and religion, as evident in the way the program required the government to examine a school’s records to determine how much of the total expenditures was attributable to secular education and how much to religious activity. Similarly, the Court reversed the Pennsylvania District Court’s order that dismissed appellant taxpayers’ complaint under a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion, finding that the Pennsylvania statute had the facial defect of providing state financial aid directly to church-related schools.

  • Advocates: Henry W. Sawyer, III for the appellants in 89 William B. Ball for the appellee schools in 89 Edward Bennett Williams for the appellants in 569 Charles F. Cottam for the appellants in 570 J. Shane Creamer for the appellees Kurtzman et al. in 89 Leo Pfeffer for the appellees in 569 and 570 Milton Stanzler for the appellees in 569 and 570
  • Appellant: Alton J. Lemon, et al.
  • Appellee: David H. Kurtzman, Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al.
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania
Citation: 403 US 602 (1971)
Argued: Mar 3, 1971
Decided: Jun 28, 1971
Lemon v. Kurtzman Case Brief