Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578; 107 S. Ct. 2573; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1987)
Facts—A Louisiana act forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution unless accompanied by a discussion of “creation science.” The act did not require the teaching of one or the other, but if either was taught, the other must be also. School boards were forbidden to discriminate against anyone who chose to be a creation scientist or to teach creationism. The statute was challenged as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the constitution of Louisiana. The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the statute, but the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Fifth Circuit declared it invalid.
Question—Does the Louisiana statute requiring public schools that teach evolution also to teach “creation science” violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause?
Reasons—J. Brennan (7–2). The three-part test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) requires a law to have a secular purpose, to avoid advancing or inhibiting religion, and to avoid excessive entanglement of government with religion.
If the law were enacted for the purpose of endorsing religion, “no consideration of the second or third criteria (of Lemon) is necessary.” It is clear “that requiring schools to teach creation science with evolution does not advance academic freedom.” There can be no legitimate state interest in protecting particular religions from scientific views distasteful to them. “The preeminent purpose of Louisiana legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint.” The Louisiana act violates the First Amendment and seeks “to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.”
J. Scalia’s dissent argued for greater deference to the state and to its judgment that the legislation at issue had a legitimate secular legislative purpose.