Bible Reading in Public Schools Halted

On this date in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Abington Town School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, barring bible reading in public schools. The case, brought by Ed Schempp and his family, challenged a Pennsylvania law requiring that "at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be excused from such Bible reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the written request of his parent or guardian." Ed, with his wife Sidney and two of their three children, brought suit. (The eldest, Ellery, graduated from high school so was dismissed from the case, but was the original instigator of the complaint.) The religious exercises were broadcast into each class through a public address system, and were conducted under the supervision of a teacher by students. The broadcasts concluded with a recitation of the Lord's Prayer, with students asked to stand and repeat the prayer in unison, following a flag salute. Joined to the Abington case was Murray v. Curlett, challenging a similar practice adopted by the Baltimore school board requiring reading, without comment, a chapter from the "Holy Bible" and/or the Lord's Prayer to open the school day. The Abington decision followed the 1962 Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court decision, ruling classroom prayer unconstitutional in public schools. Ed Schempp, who died in 2003, was a longtime member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and an honorary officer.

“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.”

—Justice Clark, delivering the majority opinion in Abington Town School District v. Schempp (1963). For more about the legal status of prayer in school, see the Foundation's brochure,

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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