May a school board limit school activities on certain nights to accommodate a particular religious group?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

No, not unless the school has a legitimate civil or secular purpose for
limiting activities; it may not curtain programs only to accommodate a
particular religious group. Though the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled directly
on this issue, causing some ambiguity, the Court has heard many cases concerning
the First Amendment's establishment clause. From one of those cases came the Lemon test used by the courts to determine if a law runs
contrary to the establishment clause. The secular-purpose standard mentioned
above is one part of this test, which the Court developed in 1971 in deciding
the case Lemon v. Kurtzman. The Lemon test has
three parts; first, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second,
its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits
religion; third, the statute must not foster an excessive government
entanglement with religion. So, for example, if school officials could show that
there would be little or no participation in a school activity on a given night
due to some religious observance or activity, causing the school to waste school
funds, they would probably withstand a constitutional challenge.