The Lemon Test explained

In the 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzmann, the Court established a test to determine whether legislation violates the Constitution’s establishment clause. This test was called the Lemon Test and has been used in numerous cases to determine the constitutionality of state actions that bear upon religion. The Lemon Test has three prongs, each a requirement for state action to be deemed constitutional under the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution: (1) the law must have a secular purpose, (2) the primary effect of the law must not infringe on or promote religion, and (3) the law should not unduly entangle government with religion.

In the controversial Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Bremerton, the Supreme Court ruled that a public high school football coach could pray on the field without violating the First Amendment's establishment clause. In making its determination, however, the Court did not use or even mention the once popular Lemon Test. Instead, the majority deployed a new test, the "historical practices and traditions test." While Lemon was not explicitly overturned, Bremerton has left some legal scholars to speculate that the once popular Lemon Test is now dead.


  Sarah Barringer Gordon is a constitutional scholar, legal historian, and a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Additional Resources


Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971): Statutes that provide state funding for non-public, non-secular schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court established its three-part “Lemon Test” in this case. 

Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014): The Supreme Court ruled that Christian prayer before a legislative meeting was not a violation of the Establishment Clause.  The Court did not emply the Lemon Test.

Carson v. Makin (2022): The Supreme Court ruled that Maine’s requirement that school tuition assistance payments only be used towards secular schools was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment.  The Court did not emply the Lemon Test.

Kennedy v. Bremerton (2022): The Supreme Court found in favor of a football coaches right to pray at midfield after football games. Without mentioning the Lemon Test, the case employed a new test to evaluate the constitutionality of the school districts actions, the historical practices and understandings test. 



Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

                                           –The First Amendment to the United States Constitution