Education Funding Obituary

Plaintiff in Landmark Lemon Case Dies

By Mark Walsh — June 04, 2013 1 min read
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Alton T. Lemon

Alton T. Lemon, the lead plaintiff in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case setting a key test for evaluating the constitutionality of government aid to religious schools, has died. He was 84 and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Mr. Lemon was an activist who helped challenge a 1968 Pennsylvania law that authorized state reimbursement of nonpublic schools, including religious schools, for “secular” services such as teachers’ salaries, textbooks, and other instructional materials.

In its 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the high court struck down the Pennsylvania program, along with a similar Rhode Island program in a consolidated case. It said the programs resulted in excessive entanglement between government and religion in violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against a government establishment of religion.

The decision’s more lasting impact stemmed from its establishment of a three-part test for evaluating government aid to religion, known ever since as the Lemon test. Under the test, courts weighing a program of government aid to religion must consider whether the program has a secular purpose, whether its primary purpose is to advance or inhibit religion, and whether it results in an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The test has been much criticized by conservative legal scholars and many judges, including some members of the Supreme Court.

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Plaintiff in Landmark Lemon Case

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