Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

The conclusion follows that in both cases the laws require religious exercises and such exercises are being conducted in direct violation of the rights of the appellees. . . . Nor are these required exercises mitigated by the fact that individual students may absent themselves upon parental request, for that fact furnishes no defense to a claim of unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause. . . . Further, it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent. . . .

It is insisted that unless these religious exercises are permitted a "religion of secularism" is established in the schools. We agree, of course, that the State may not establish a "religion of secularism" in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion. . . . We do not agree, however, that this decision in any sense has that effect. In addition, it might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into these categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.

Finally, we cannot accept that the concept of neutrality, which does not permit a State to require a religious exercise even with the consent of the majority of those affected, collides with the majority's right to free exercise of religion. While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs. . . .

Source: School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania, et al. v. Schempp et al., 374 U. S.203.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

D. E. Boles, The Bible, Religion, and the Public School ( Ames, Iowa, 1961).

J. W. Harrison, "The Bible, the Constitution and Public Education", Tennessee Law Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 3 ( Spring 1962), pp. 363-418.

A. W. Johnson and F. H. Yost, Separation of Church and State in the United States ( Minneapolis, 1948), pp. 33-73.

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

L. H. Pollak, "Public Prayers in Public Schools", Harvard Law Review, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1 ( November 1963), pp. 62-78.

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