1943 October 5

Landmark Church-State Case Begins

 

R. A. Everson, Executive Vice President of the New Jersey Taxpayers’ Association, challenged a state law on this day that allowed use of public funds for transporting students to private and parochial schools. In Everson v. Board of Education, on February 10, 1947, the Supreme Court upheld the state law but articulated a “wall of separation” between church and state that has defined the issue of government support for religious activities in schools ever since.

The two most important Supreme Court decisions on religion in the schools are Engel v. Vitale on June 25, 1962, which declared officially-sponsored prayers unconstitutional, and Abington v. Schempp on June 17, 1963, which ruled that mandatory Bible-reading was also a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Court: “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’”

Visit the Americans United for Separation of Church and State web site: http://www.au.org

Learn more about the Establishment Clausehttp://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion

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