The Establishment Clause and the "Lemon" Tests
Based on its 1971 decision in the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Supreme Court came up with the three "tests" of any religion-related law. The "Lemon" test is still used by the Court today to determine whether or not the law meets constitutional muster. In order for any law to satisfy the First Amendment, it:
- Must have some secular, or non-religious legal purpose;
- must neither promote or inhibit the practice of religion; and
- must not must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
In its Lemon decision, the Supreme Court concludes, "[i]f a statute violates any of these three principles, it must be struck down under the Establishment Clause." (For more details, see: Church and State: How the Court Decides, by your About.com Guide)
Lemon Test v. The Ten Commandments
When viewed against the "Lemon" tests, the first four of the Ten Commandments would fail because they have no secular, or non-religious legal purpose. Instead, they concern only specific religious duties expected of believers.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
However, commandments 5-10, taken by themselves, make no mention of religion at all. Instead, they are all rules of proper conduct by people in society and are thus completely secular in nature.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
But, the Aderholt Amendment did not exclude the first four commandments from consideration. Why did 284 U.S. Representatives vote for it. How would those 284 U.S. Representatives defend the constitutionality of the amendment? They would draw from the words of the people who wrote the Constitution.