60 Years of Controversy: What the Supreme Court Has Ruled on Religion in Public Schools-And Why
Boston, Rob, Church & State
The U.S. Supreme Court has been grappling with the role of religion in public education for six decades now. At the risk of oversimplifying, the high court has tended to strike down programs of schoolsponsored or coercive religious activity while protecting the right of individual students to engage in truly voluntary prayer and other religious activities in a non-disruptive fashion.
Here is a summary of the religion-in-public-schools rulings with excerpts from the majority opinions:
* McCollum v. Board of Education (1948): Ruling 8-1, the high court struck down a program of "released-time" religious instruction in Champaign, Ill., public schools because the clergy-led classes violated the separation of church and state.
Wrote Justice Hugo L. Black, "[T]he First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. ... Here not only are the state's tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the state's compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State."
* Zorach v. Clauson (1952): Here the court, ruling 6-3, upheld a released-time program in New York City that allowed students to leave school during the day for religious instruction offsite.
Justice William O. Douglas wrote, "No one is forced to go to the religious classroom and no religious exercise or instruction is brought to the classrooms of the public schools. A student need not take religious instruction. He is left to his own …
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Publication information: Article title: 60 Years of Controversy: What the Supreme Court Has Ruled on Religion in Public Schools-And Why. Contributors: Boston, Rob - Author. Magazine title: Church & State. Volume: 61. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 2008. Page number: 12+. © 1999 Americans United for Separation of Church and State. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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