The Supreme Court of the United States: A Student Companion

By John J. Patrick | Go to book overview

THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
A Student Companion

Abington School
District v. Schempp

374 U.S. 203 (1963)

Vote: 8–1

For the Court: Clark

Concurring: Brennan, Douglas, and Goldberg

Dissenting: Stewart

A PENNSYLVANIA law required that each public school day must be started with the reading of at least 10 verses from the Bible, without comment. A student could be excused from this re- quirement by presenting to school author- ities a written request from a parent or guardian. The Schempp family challenged the state law. They refused to request an exception for their child, a student at Abington High School, from the Bible- reading exercise. And they refused to allow their child to attend this exercise. The Schempps brought suit against the Abington School District to block en- forcement of the Bible-reading statute.

The Issue Did the Pennsylvania law on Bible reading in public schools violate the 1st Amendment provision against laws "respecting an establish- ment of religion"?

Opinion of the Court The Court decided in favor of the Schempp family and struck down the state law on Bible reading in public schools. Writing for the Court, Justice Tom Clark concluded that the government may not promote reli- gion in public schools. For the first time, the Court specified a test for determining whether a law violates the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. Justice Clark wrote:

The test may be stated as follows:
What are the purposes and primary
effect of the enactment? If either is
the advancement or inhibition of
religion then the enactment exceeds
the scope of legislative power as cir-
cumscribed by the Constitutionߪ.
"T"o withstand the strictures of the
Establishment Clause there must be
a secular legislative purpose and a
primary effect that neither advances
nor inhibits religion.

According to the Court, the Penn- sylvania law on daily Bible reading in public schools failed to pass this estab- lishment clause test. The state law failed

Petitioners work
to convince Con-
gress to return
Bible reading to
public schools.
The Abington
case had decided
that such Bible
reading was un-
constitutional.

-11-

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The Supreme Court of the United States: A Student Companion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface to the Second Edition 7
  • Preface to the First Edition 8
  • How to Use This Book 9
  • The Supreme Court of the United States - A Student Companion 11
  • Appendix 1 - Terms of the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court 379
  • Appendix 2 - Visiting the Supreme Court Building 383
  • Appendix 3 - Web Sites 384
  • Further Reading 386
  • Index 390
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