On this date in 1948, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCollum v. Board of Education, barring religious instruction in public schools, was handed down, with a vote of 8 to 1. The dramatic case was brought by Vashti McCollum, a mother in Champaign, Ill., on behalf of her son, Jim. In her enduring book about the challenge, One Woman's Fight, Vashti described how Jim was punished by teachers and teased by students for not taking part in religious instruction illegally taught in his public school. Although she lost at the first two court levels and was treated as "a very unpopular woman," Vashti did not give up. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in a stunning victory for separation of church and state, which is still the prevailing precedent in public school law today. Vashti was an Honorary Officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She died at age 93 in 2006.
Anniversary of McCollum v. Board of Education Decision
“Separation means separation, not something less. Jefferson's metaphor in describing the relation between Church and State speaks of a 'wall of separation,' not a fine line easily overstepped. The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly apart. 'The great American principle of eternal separation' — Elihu Root's phrase bears repetition — is one of the vital reliances of our Constitutional system for assuring unities among our people stronger than our diversities. It is the Court's duty to enforce this principle in its full integrity.”
—-Justice Frankfurter, concurrence, McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948)
Vashti McCollum savoring her US Supreme Court victory, March 8, 1948; Photo by FFRF
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