The following are excerpts from the Supreme Court ruling yesterday invalidating a Louisiana law that would have forced public school teachers to give equal time to "creation science" when teaching about evolution.

Justice William Brennan writing for the majority, joined by Justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell. Justices Powell, Sandra Day O'Connor and Byron White concurred in the ruling:

The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law "respecting an establishment of religion." The court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. (The test was first spelled out in Lemon vs. Kurtzman). State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs.

A governmental intention to promote religion is clear when the state enacts a law to serve a religious purpose . . . . True, the act's stated purpose is to protect academic freedom . . . . The goal of providing a more comprehensive science curriculum is not furthered either by outlawing the teaching of evolution or by requiring the teaching of creation science.

While the court is normally deferential to a state's articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham . . . . It is clear from the legislative history that the purpose of the legislative sponsor, Senator Bill Keith, was to narrow the science curriculum.

There is a historic and contemporaneous link between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution . . . . The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind. The term "creation science" was defined as embracing this particular religious doctrine by those responsible for the passage of the Creationism Act . . . . Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The Louisiana Creationism Act advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety. The act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.

Justice Lewis Powell, joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in concurrence:

I write separately to note certain aspects of the legislative history, and to emphasize that nothing in the court's opinion diminishes the traditionally broad discretion accorded state and local school officials in the selection of the public school curriculum.

Here, it is clear that religious belief is the Balanced Treatment's Act's "reason for existence." The tenets of creation science parallel the Genesis story of creation, and this is a religious belief.

Justice Byron White in concurrence:

As it comes to us, this is not a difficult case. Based on the historical setting and plain language of the act both {lower} courts construed the statutory words "creation science" to refer to a religious belief, which the act required to be taught if evolution was taught . . . . Both courts concluded that the state legislature's purpose was to advance religion and that the statute was therefore unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissenting, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist:

Our task is not to judge the debate about teaching the origins of life, but to ascertain what the members of the Louisiana Legislature believed. The vast majority of them voted to approve a bill which explicitly stated a secular purpose; what is crucial is not their wisdom in believing that purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be.

Even with nothing more than this legislative history to go on, I think it would be extraordinary to invalidate the Balanced Treatment Act for lack of a valid secular purpose. Striking down a law approved by the democratically elected representatives of the people is no minor matter.

The Louisiana Legislature explicitly set forth its secular purpose {protecting academic freedom} in the very text of the act. We have in the past repeatedly relied upon or deferred to such expressions.

The act defines creation science as "scientific evidence" . . . . We have no basis on the record to conclude that creation science need be anything other than a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that life abruptly appeared on Earth.