Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (1990)

The Supreme Court considered whether the Equal Access Act (1990) prohibits a high school from denying a student religious group permission to meet on school premises during noninstructional time, and if it does, whether the Act itself violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In an 8-1 decision, the Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that, because the school allows other non-curricular groups to meet, it is bound by the Act to permit other groups to meet and cannot deny such permission on the basis of religious content of those meetings.

The Court further ruled that the Act did not violate the Establishment Clause, because it passes the three-pronged test outlined in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). The Act grants equal access to both secular and religious speech (with a secular purpose). It also expressly limits participation by school officials at student religious group meetings and requires that such meetings be held during noninstructional time. Further, it does not advance religion and avoids excessive entanglement of religion and government.