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Supreme Court Decisions on Religious Liberty
Government Support of Religion

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Torcaso v. Watkins (1961)
In a unanimous decision, the Court found that Maryland's religious test for public office violated Torcaso's right to religious freedom.

McGowan v. Maryland (1961)
The Court ruled that Maryland's Sunday closing laws had evolved into furthering secular ends and therefore did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Braunfeld v. Brown (1961)
An Orthodox Jew challenged Pennsylvania's blue laws, but by a 6-3 vote, with Chief Justice Warren writing the majority opinion, the Supreme Court declared them constitutional.

Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of NY (1970)
With the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Burger, the Court upheld the tax exemption for churches by a vote of 8-1.

Welsh v. United States (1970)
The Court ruled that a man could be a "conscientious objector" even though he did not claim the status for religious reasons.

McDaniel v. Paty (1978)
The Court ruled that Tennessee's statute forbidding clergy from holding public office improperly forced citizens to choose between exercising two of their fundamental rights.

Larson v. Valente (1982)
The Court ruled 5-4 that a Minnesota law imposing greater burdens on minority, non-traditional relgious groups was unconstitutional because was not closely enough related to furthering a specific governmental interest.

Lynch v. Donnelly (1983)
The Court ruled 5-4 that the city of Pawtucket could continue to display a nativity scene as part of its Christmas display.

Marsh v. Chambers (1983)
The Court permitted the practice of beginning the legislative session in Nebraska with a prayer given by the publicly funded chaplain.

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor (1985)
The Court ruled 8-1 that Connecticut's law requiring that employers give all employees the day off if it was their chosen day of worship was unconstitutional because it had a direct effect of advancing a particular religious practice.

Bowen v. Kendrick (1988)
In a 5-4 Court Decision, the Court allowed federal funds to be given to religious organizations offering counseling consistent with the purposes advocated in the Adolescent Family Life Act.

County of Allegheny v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1989)
The Court ruled that while a creche display on public property was unconstitutional, a menorah display on another piece of public property was not.

Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock (1989)
With Justice Brennan writing the majority opinion, the Court decided that exempting religious publications from the state sales tax violated the Establishment Clause.

Capitol Square Review Board v. Pinette (1995)
Supreme Court decision holding that an unattended cross erected by the KKK on public grounds would not give the impression of government endorsement and, hence, is not a violation of the separation of church and state.

Boerne v. Flores (1997)
The Court ruled against an Archbishop and in favor of the city of Borne, finding that the Congress did indeed exceed its authority by passing the RFRA and that governments did not have to use the "compelling government interest" test.

ACLU v. Ohio (1999)
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Ohio motto, "With God All Things Are Possible" is indeed a religious slogan and, hence, a violation of the separation of church and state.

Williams v. Lara (2000)
The Texas Supreme Court decided that an "all fundamentalist" prison section was unconstitutional, even though the prisoners volunteered to be there where other religious beliefs were excluded.

O'Bannon v. Indiana Civil Liberties Union (2001)
The Supreme Court has recently refused to hear a case about a large monument in Indiana which would have included the Ten Commandments. What was the original 7th Circuit Court decision, and why did they reach that conclusion? What does this mean for future cases?

FFRF v. Faith Works (2002)
A federal district court decides that the state government cannot give direct, unrestricted funding to a "faith based" drug counseling program which also includes a heavy dose of religious indoctrination.

ESA v. Rylander (2001)
A Texas District Court ruled that a nontheistic Ethical Culture Society deserved a religious tax exemption. The Court rejected State arguments that religion must be defined by a belief in a "Supreme Being."

Widmar v. Vincent (1981)
Should religious student groups be given the same access to university facilities as secular student groups, or would that mean that the university is exhibiting support and/or encouragement to religious beliefs? According to the Supreme Court, all groups must be treated equally, including religious organizations.

Locke v. Davey (2004)
The question before the court was: can a state withhold a general government benefit, like a merit-based scholarship, from those who would use that benefit to further religious goals? Can a state refuse to disburse a scholarship to students seeking to obtain divinity degrees for the purpose of a career in religious ministry but not refuse to give scholarships to students pursuing any other career?


Major Sources:

The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. Kermit L. Hall, ed. Compare Prices

The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions. Kermit L. Hall, ed. Compare Prices

The Godless Court? Supreme Court Decisions on Church-State Relationships. Ronald B. Flowers. Compare Prices

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness. Isaac Kramnick & R. Laurence Moore. Compare Prices

The Constitution and Religion: Leading Supreme Court Cases on Church and State. Robert S. Alley Compare Prices

The Supreme Court on Church and State. Robert S. Alley Compare Prices

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