Personal Injury

Debating Church-State Relations and Related Free-Speech Issues

Take Action!—Established Churches in Colonial Times

1. Research one of the American colonies to find out more about the official religion it may have established and how nonmembers were treated.

2. (a) Reread the section in the accompanying article that defines the separationist and accommodationist perspectives. Create a table where the first column lists practices at your school that in some way involve, or restrict, religious practices. Then check off to what extent you agree with the school practice.

My School's PracticeStrongly AgreeAgreeDisagreeStrongly Disagree
a. School prayer never allowed





b. Student religious club meetings allowed 




c. School vouchers never allowed 




d. Some holy day observances allowed (Easter, Passover)





e. Religious holiday decorations allowed





f. Wearing of religious clothing or symbols allowed (prayer shawl, cross)





g. Bible readings never allowed during school





(b) On the basis of your answers, would you describe yourself as having “accommodationist” or “separationist” leanings? How would you defend your positions on any of the entries you’ve recorded?

3. Consult this list of Supreme Court establishment of religion cases, and read about one or more online. Find out which justices are still on the Supreme Court, and analyze how they ruled. Does this tell you anything about how the present Supreme Court might rule on a case involving school vouchers or government funding of social services provided by faith-based institutions? (If you wish to expand your research to other cases, visit; click on “Freedom of Religion.”)

Supreme Court Establishment of Religion Cases

a. Everson v. Board of Education of the Town of Ewing

330 U.S. 1, 29 (1947)

Court unanimously agrees that both state and federal governments must be neutral as between different religions and between religion and nonreligion.

b. Engel v. Vitale

370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962)

Court rules that public schools may not require prayer recitation.

c. Lemon v. Kurtzman

403 U.S. 602, 612 (1971)

Court creates controversial Lemon test to interpret the Establishment Clause.

d. Lynch v. Donnelly

465 U.S. 668, 687-89 (1984)

Endorsement test proposed as alternative to Lemon test.

e. Grand Rapids v. Ball

473 U.S. 373 (1985)

A case among many others where justices sharply divide on how to apply Lemon test.

f. Wallace v. Jaffree

472 U.S. 38, 109 (1985)

Full-blown attack on the Lemon test.

g. County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union

492 U.S. 573, 660 (1989)

Coercion test proposed as alternative to Lemon test.

h. Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens

496 U.S. 226 (1990)

Distinction drawn between government and private speech endorsing religion.

i. Lee v. Weisman

505 U.S. 577 (1992)

Deeply divided Court finds graduation prayers violate Establishment Clause.

j. Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

115 S.Ct. 2510 (1995)

University could not deny student activity fund moneys to a religious group because doing so violated the group’s free speech rights.

k. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

120 S.Ct. 2266 (2000)

Court rules against student-led and student-initiated pregame prayers.

l. Mitchell v. Helms

120 S.Ct. 2530, 2000

Court allows use of federal funds to buy instructional equipment in public and parochial schools.

Student Central | Students in Action
Debating Church-State Relations and Related Free-Speech Issues
*Established Churches in Colonial Times* | Establishment Clause
Religious Freedom and Today's Religious Minorities
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