McCollum v. Board of Education Decision (Anniversary)

Vashti McCollum savoring her US Supreme Court victory, March 8, 1948 Vashti McCollum savoring her US Supreme Court victory, March 8, 1948

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 lone dissent was from Justice Stanley Forman Reed, who objected to the breadth of the majority's interpretation of the Establishment Clause.

The case was brought by Vashti McCollum (pictured), a mother in Champaign, Ill., on behalf of her son, Jim. In her enduring book about the challenge, One Woman's Fight, she described how her son 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. McCollum was an FFRF honorary board member. She died at age 93 in 2006.

“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.”

—Justice Felix Frankfurter, concurrence, McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement