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Alton Lemon, civil rights activist, dies at 84

Alton Lemon, after whom the “Lemon Test” is named, was an extremely important figure in secular activism in United States history. We are very sad to hear the news of his death, and we will be celebrating his life and work at American Atheists headquarters today. He was 84.

If you’re not familiar with the Lemon Test, it’s a crucial determining factor in the work we do every day at American Atheists. The Lemon Test, from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, was established by the Supreme Court in 1971. It spells out in detail the requirements for legislation concerning religion, such that government action is deemed not to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

It consists of three prongs:

1) The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose

2) The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion

3) The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion

If any of these 3 prongs are violated, the government’s action is unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent. This is the basis for much of our legal action as an non-profit focused on separation of religion and government activism.

Lemon was a great activist. He will be missed.

(By coincidence, he lived just a few blocks away from where I used to live in a neighborhood just north of Philadelphia. If I’d known that at the time, I would have tried to meet him! – Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director)

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