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Edwards v. Aguillard
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued December 10, 1986
Decided June 19, 1987
Full case name Edwards, Governor of Louisiana, et al. v. Aguillard et al.
Citations 482 U.S. 578 (more)
107 S. Ct. 2573; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2729; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860
Argument Oral argument
Teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it attempts to advance a particular religion.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens, O'Connor (all but part II)
Concurrence Powell, joined by O'Connor
Concurrence White (in the judgment of the court only)
Dissent Scalia, joined by Rehnquist

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) was a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1987 regarding creationism. The Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools along with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion. At the same time, however, it held that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."

In support of Aguillard, 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists,[1] 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific organizations filed amicus briefs which described creation science as being composed of religious tenets.



Modern American Creationism arose out of the theological split over modernist higher criticism and its rejection by the Fundamentalist Christian movement which promoted Biblical literalism and, post 1920, took up the anti-evolution cause led by William Jennings Bryan. Teaching of evolution had become a common part of the public school curriculum, but his campaign was based on the idea that “Darwinism” had caused German militarism and was a threat to traditional religion and morality. Several states passed legislation to ban or restrict the teaching of evolution. The Tennessee Butler Act was tested in the Scopes Trial of 1925, and continued in effect with the result that evolution was not taught in many schools.[2]

When the United States sought to catch up in science during the 1960s with new teaching standards which reintroduced evolution, the creation science movement arose, presenting what was claimed to be scientific evidence supporting young earth creationism. Attempts were made to reintroduce legal bans, but the Supreme Court ruled that bans on teaching evolutionary biology are unconstitutional as they violate the establishment clause of the US constitution, which forbids the government from advancing a particular religion.[2]

In the early 1980s several states attempted to introduce creationism along with teaching of evolution, and the Louisiana legislature passed a law, authored by State Senator Bill P. Keith of Caddo Parish, entitled the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act". The Act did not require teaching either creationism or evolution, but did require that when evolutionary science was taught, "creation science" had to be taught as well. Creationists had lobbied aggressively for the law, and the State argued that the Act was about academic freedom for teachers. The measure was signed into law by Governor David C. Treen.

Lower courts had ruled that the State's actual purpose was to promote the religious doctrine of "creation science", but the State appealed to the Supreme Court. A similar case had also decided against creationism but was not appealed to the national level, creationists instead thinking that they had better chances with Edwards v. Aguillard.


On June 19, 1987 the Supreme Court, in a seven to two majority opinion written by Justice William J. Brennan, ruled that the Act constituted an unconstitutional infringement on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, based on the three-pronged Lemon test, which is:

  1. The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of the government and religion.

However it did note that alternative scientific theories could be taught:

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . . Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.

The Court found that, although the Louisiana legislature had stated that its purpose was to "protect academic freedom," that purpose was dubious because the Act gave Louisiana teachers no freedom they did not already possess and instead limited their ability to determine what scientific principles should be taught. Because it was unconvinced by the state's proffered secular purpose, the Court went on to find that the legislature had a "preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute."


Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented, accepting the Act's stated purpose of "protecting academic freedom" as a sincere and legitimate secular purpose. They construed the term "academic freedom" to refer to "students' freedom from indoctrination", in this case their freedom "to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence". However, they also criticized the first prong of the Lemon test, noting that "to look for the sole purpose of even a single legislator is probably to look for something that does not exist".

Consequences and aftermath

The ruling had great effect on the American creationist movement. It only affected state schools, with independent schools, home schools, Sunday schools and Christian schools free to still teach creationism. Within two years a creationist textbook had been produced: Of Pandas and People which attacked evolutionary biology without mentioning the identity of the supposed "intelligent designer". Drafts of the text used "creation" or "creator" before being changed to "intelligent design" or "designer" after the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling.[3] This form of creationism, known as intelligent design creationism started in the early 1990s. This would eventually lead to another court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which went to trial on September 26, 2005 and was decided in U.S. District Court on December 20, 2005 in favor of the plaintiffs, who charged that a mandate that intelligent design be taught was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The 139 page opinion of Kitzmiller v. Dover was hailed as a landmark decision, firmly establishing that creationism and intelligent design were religious teachings and not areas of legitimate scientific research. Because the Dover school board chose not to appeal, the case never reached a circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wendell Bird served as a special assistant attorney general for Louisiana in the case and later became a staff attorney for the Institute for Creation Research and Association of Christian Schools International.[4] Bird later authored books promoting creationism and teaching it in public schools.

Related cases

See also


Further reading

  • Blewett, Paul F. (1987). "Edwards v. Aguillard: The Supreme Court's Deconstruction of Louisiana's Creationism Statute". Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy 3: 663. ISSN 0883-3648. 
  • McClellan, V. F. (1988). "Edwards v. Aguillard: The Creationist-Evolutionist Battle Continues". Oklahoma City University Law Review 13: 631. ISSN 0364-9458. 
  • Moore, Randy (2004). "How Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution?". BioScience 54 (9): 860–865. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[0860:HWDBTU2.0.CO;2]. 

External links


Simple English

Edwards v. Aguillard was a 1987 United States Supreme Court case that said that creationism (see that article) was not science, as its fans said it was. The Supreme Court said that it was religion, and could not be taught in American schools, because the United States Constitution (the set of rules that all American government must follow) does not allow the government to support one religion more than other religions, and so schools run by the government cannot teach religion as being true. This rule is known as the Establishment Clause.

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