Monday, June 17, 2013

50 years ago: U.S. Supreme Court outlaws required Bible reading in public schools

On June 17, 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 in Abington School District v. Schempp against requiring the reciting of Bible verses and the Lord's Prayer in public schools (go here to see the text of the judgement). The case had been initiated by Edward Schempp, a Unitarian Universalist and resident of Abington School District in Pennsylvania who was trying to probit the enforcement of a Pennsylvania state law requiring that at least 10 Bible verses be read, without comment, in school at the beginning of each school day in the public schools. Murray v. Curlett, a similar suit initiated by atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, was consolidated with Mr. Schempp's case on appeal to the Supreme Court.

The court upheld its ruling in Engel v. Vitale (1962) that it was unconstitutional for state officials to prescribe an official school prayer, and ruled that the Pennsylvania law and similar laws violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibition on the establishment of religion.

I'll leave it to American readers to figure out how the direction of their country was influenced by the Supreme Court's rulings in Engel v. Vitale and Abington School District v. Schempp.

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