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.”

Schempp, 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. They concluded with the Lord’s Prayer, with students asked to stand and recite 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation