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Edwards v. Aguillard

Citation. 482 U.S. 578, 107 S.Ct. 2573, 96 L.Ed.2d 510 (1987).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenged Louisiana’s Creationism Act, arguing it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

While the Court is normally deferential to a state’s articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham.

Facts.

Louisiana enacted the Creationism Act. Under the Act, no school was required to teach evolution or creation science. If either was taught, however, the other must also be taught. Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Act, arguing it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Issue.

Whether the Creationism Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Held.

Yes. The Creationism Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Dissent.

Justice Scalia

The constitutionality of the Act cannot be disposed of by impugning the motives of its supporting. We have no adequate basis for disbelieving the stated secular purpose. Contrary to the majority’s decision today, the Act satisfies the first prong of the Lemon test. As such, I would reverse.

Concurrence.

Justice Powell

The Establishment Clause is properly understood to prohibit the use of the Bible and other religious documents in public school education only when the purpose of the use is to advance a particular religious belief.

Justice White

As an original matter, I may have arrived at a different conclusion based on a reading of the statute and the record before us. I cannot say that the two courts below are so plainly wrong that they should be reversed, however.

Discussion.

If Louisiana’s legislature’s purpose was solely to maximize the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of science instruction, it would have encouraged the teaching of all scientific theories about the origins of humankind. The Act here, however, fails to protect academic freedom. It has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism. We need not be blind to the legislature’s preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute.

Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act violates the Establishment Clause.


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