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Marsh v. Chambers

A Nation In Change

Joined in dissent by Justice Marshall, Justice Brennan contended that "messages of history often tend to be ambiguous and not relevant to a society far more heterogeneous [diverse]" than 200 years earlier. Brennan believed application of the Lemon Test would have clearly demonstrated the practice of official invocational prayer in state legislatures is contrary to the Establishment Clause and unconstitutional. By not applying the test, Brennan stressed, the Court's finding was truly recognizing an exception "rather than reshaping Establishment Clause doctrine." Then in applying the Lemon Test elements, Brennan found legislative prayers placed at least "indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform," linked religious belief to the power and prestige of the state, and led to excessive entanglement by placing the state in a position of monitoring and overseeing the prayers, selecting a chaplain, and resolving complaints by legislators that arise. In sum, Brennan regarded the prayers as distinctly religious in nature, not secular, and stated that the quieting of legislators and the setting of a serious tone could be accomplished in some other manner.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Marsh v. Chambers - Significance, Is There An American Civil Religion?, A Nation In Change, Impact, Further Readings