1947 February 10

The “Wall of Separation” Between Church and State is Born


In Everson v. Board of Education, decided on this day, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld a New Jersey law allowing school districts to pay for the transportation of students in private and parochial schools. (See October 5, 1943, for the origins of the case.) The decision also applied — for the first time — the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to state law.

Justice Hugo Black’s reference to a “wall of separation” between church and state defined the terms of subsequent litigation over the constitutionality of state aid to religious schools.

In later years, the Court would interpret the wall of separation to hold many religious practices in public schools unconstitutional, most famously official prayers (Engel v. Vitale, June 25, 1962) and required Bible reading, (Abingdon School District v. Schempp, June 17, 1963).

Justice Black: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach. New Jersey has not breached it here.”

Read: Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (2012)

Learn more about separation of church and state: https://www.au.org/

Learn about the Religion Clauses at the First Amendment Center:

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