Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.

Source: Engel et al. v. Vitale et al., 370 U.S.421.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

E. Cahn, "On Government and Prayer", New York University Law Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6 ( December 1962), pp. 981-1000.

P. G. Kauper, "Prayer, Public Schools and the Supreme Court", Michigan Law Review, Vol. LXI, No. 6 ( April 1963), pp. 1031-1068.

L. Pfeffer, God, Caesar, and the Constitution ( Boston, 1975), pp. 168-227.

A. E. Sutherland Jr., "Establishment According to Engel", Harvard Law Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1 ( November 1962), pp. 25-52.


166
Abington School District v. Schempp (Extract) June 17, 1963

Although regular readings from the Bible had been judicially invalidated in several states, the practice was required or permitted by law in other states, often with provision for the use of different versions of the.Bible and for the excused absence of objecting students. In 1963 the Court struck down the practice in a single decision applicable to two similar cases from Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Pennsylvania law stated: "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." The Schempp family's suit alleged violation of rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The decision was read by Justice Tom Clark ( 1899- 1977). As in Engel v. Vitale, Justice Potter Stewart dissented. The passage reproduced below is an extract from the decision

These companion cases present the issues in the context of state action requiring that schools begin each day with readings from the Bible. . . . In light of the history of the First Amendment and of our cases interpreting and applying its requirements, we hold that the practices at issue and the laws requiring them are unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

* * *

The wholesome "neutrality" of which this Court's cases speak thus stems from a recognition of the teachings of history that powerful sects or groups might bring about a fusion of governmental and religious functions or a concert or dependency

-435-

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