Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
Facts of the Case 

Ernest Chambers, a member of the Nebraska legislature, challenged the legislature's chaplaincy practice in federal court. This practice involves the offering of a prayer at the beginning of each legislative session by a chaplain chosen by the state and paid out of public funds. The district court supported Chambers on the use of public funds. The appeals court supported Chambers on the prayer practice. Both parties appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Does the chaplaincy practice of the Nebraska legislature violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Decision: 6 votes for Marsh, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Establishment of Religion

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court upheld the chaplaincy practice. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Warren Burger abandoned the three-part test of Lemon v. Kurtzman, which had been the touchstone for cases involving the Establishment Clause. In its place, Burger rested the Court's opinion on historical custom. Prayers by tax-supported legislative chaplains could be traced to the First Continental Congress and to the First Congress that framed the Bill of Rights. As a consequence, the chaplaincy practice had become "part of the fabric of our society." In such circumstances, an invocation for Divine guidance is not an establishment of religion. "It is," wrote Burger, "simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country."

Cite this Page
MARSH v. CHAMBERS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 31 August 2015. <>.
MARSH v. CHAMBERS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 31, 2015).
"MARSH v. CHAMBERS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 31, 2015,