8 Landmark Church-state Court Decisions That Shook America

A non-exhaustive list of cases that have shaped religious freedom.

In the 1925 media circus that was the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” a Tennessee teacher was found guilty of educating students about human evolution in a public school. In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), SCOTUS ruled that teaching evolution is in fact not a crime and prohibited states from requiring “that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.” 


As the Supreme Court struggles to decide just how religious prayers at public meetings should be in Greece v. Galloway, let’s take a look back at some of the landmark free exercise and Establishment Clause decisions that have shaped America’s religious landscape.

1. Religious freedom does not trump federal law

2. The Establishment Clause applies to states, too

3. School-led prayer in public schools is a big no-no

4. Teaching evolution is fine, creationism and intelligent design not so much

5. Parents can (sometimes) send kids to religious schools on the government’s dime, or opt them out of public schools entirely

6. Students can’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance or punished for abstaining 

 7. All laws must be religiously neutral, have a secular purpose and maintain church-state separation 

8. Restaurants with holy neighbors have the right to liquor up patrons 


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