1963 June 17

Bible Reading in Public Schools Ruled Unconstitutional


The Supreme Court on this day, in Abington v. Schempp, struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring public school students to read a passage from the Bible each day. The Court ruled that compulsory Bible-reading violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The decision came one year after it declared officially sponsored prayers in public schools unconstitutional in Engel v. Vitale, decided on June 25, 1962. The two decisions prohibiting officially sponsored religious activities in public schools are among the most controversial Supreme Court decisions of the past 60 years, and are still matters of challenges and litigation.

The Court: “The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.” Learn more about the case: Stephen Solomon, Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer (2007) Learn more about Ellery Schempp: http://secular.org/bios/Ellery_Schempp.html Read a First Amendment Guide to the Bible and the public schools: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/madison/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/bible_guide_graphics.pdf Learn more about the Establishment Clause at the First Amendment Center: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion Read: Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (2012)

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