Key US Supreme Court Decisions


McCollum v. Board of Education Dist. 71 (Word File), 333 U.S. 203 (1948)

Court finds unconstitutional: (violation of the establishment clause) religious instruction in public schools.

Burstyn v. Wilson (Word File), 72 S. Ct. 777 (1952)

The court rules that Government may not censor a motion picture because it is offensive to religious beliefs.

Torcaso v. Watkins (Word File), 367 U.S. 488 (1961)

Court finds unconstitutional (violates the Establishment Clause) that applicants for public office must swear that they believed in the existence of God.

Engel v. Vitale (Word File), 82 S. Ct. 1261 (1962)

Court rules that any kind of prayer, composed by public school districts, even nondenominational prayer, is unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion.

Abington School District v. Schempp (Word File), 374 U.S. 203 (1963)

This is the Madalyn Murray Prayer Case

Court finds unconstitutional bible reading over school intercom.

Murray v. Curlett (Word File), 374 U.S. 203 (1963)

Court finds unconstitutional; requiring a child to participate in Bible reading and prayer.

Epperson v. Arkansas (Word File), 89 S. Ct. 266 (1968)

Court finds unconstitutional the banning the teaching of evolution. A state cannot alter any element in a course of study in order to promote a religious point of view.

Lemon v. Kurtzman (Word File), 91 S. Ct. 2105 (1971)

Court ruled unconstitutional: using tax money to subsidize religious schools. Led to the creation of the “Lemon Test”, which states that any government practice:

  • Must have a secular legislative purpose; Must have the principal or primary effect of neither advancing nor inhibiting religion;
  • Must not foster “excessive entanglement” between church and state.

Stone v. Graham (Word File), 449 U.S. 39 (1980)

Court rules unconstitutional; posting of the Ten Commandments in schools Marsh v. Chambers (1983). Court rules state legislature may pay and have have a chaplain.

Wallace v. Jaffree (Word File), 105 S. Ct. 2479 (1985)

Court rules unconstitutional: moment of silence at public school statute is unconstitutional where legislative record reveals that motivation for statute was the encouragement of prayer. Court majority silent on whether "pure" moment of silence scheme, with no bias in favor of prayer or any other mental process, would be constitutional.

Edwards v. Aquillard (Word File), 107 S. Ct. 2573 (1987)

Court rules unconstitutional: requirement to the teaching of "creation science" in all instances in which evolution is taught.

Allegheny County v. ACLU (Word File), 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

Court rules unconstitutional, finds (Establishment Clause); nativity scene displayed inside a government building.

Lee v. Weisman (Word File), 112 S. Ct. 2649 (1992)

Court rules it unconstitutional for a school district to provide any clergy to perform nondenominational prayer at school graduation. (Particularly concerns psychological coercion to which children, as opposed to adults, would be subjected).

Church of Lukumi Babalu Ave., Inc. v. Hialeah (Word File), 113 S. Ct. 2217 (1993)

Court rules that ban on killing animals for religious sacrifices, while allowing sport killing and hunting, was unconstitutional.

Cutter v. Wilkinson (Word File), 000 U.S. 03-9877 (2005)

Court rules that prisoners must be allowed to practice their religion in jail.

McCreary County, Kentucky, et al.v. American Civil Liberties Union Of Kentucky et al. (Word File), 03-1693. Argued March 2, 2005 — Decided June 27, 2005

The Supreme Court rules that the Ten Commandment displays in the Kentucky Court Houses violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.


Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit No. 03-1500.Argued March 2, 2005—Decided June 27, 2005

Supreme court allows Ten Commandments to be displayed on Texas State House Grounds