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Fifty Years Of Freedom: Celebrating The Supreme Court’s Decision Against Coercive Religion In Public Schools

Fifty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme handed down one of its most important church-state rulings. In School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, the high court ruled 8-1 that state-mandated programs of Bible reading and prayer in public schools are unconstitutional.

Five decades later, the ruling in Schempp (and its companion case, Murray v. Curlett) remains widely misunderstood. Part of this is due to a deliberate campaign of misinformation by Religious Right groups, which have distorted the scope of the decision.

Ellery's Epic Exploit

In the late 1950s, Pennsylvania law was very specific about the role of religion in public schools: Every morning, 10 verses from the King James Bible followed by the Lord’s Prayer would come booming over the public address system.

Pennsylvania wasn’t unique in this practice. More than 30 states had simi­lar laws on the books. Students of all faiths and philosophies were often com­pelled to participate in what were fundamentally Protestant forms of worship.

Sex Scandal: Brave W. Va. Student Challenges Inaccurate Sexuality Lecture

Recently I had occasion to talk with Ellery Schempp, the plaintiff in the landmark 1963 school prayer and Bible reading case Abington Township School District v. Schempp. The 50th anniversary of that ruling is in June, and we’ll have a story about the case in the forthcoming May issue of Church & State.

The Bold And The Brave: Saluting Those Who Stand Up For The Church-State Wall

On Tuesday I flew to New England to speak to a humanist group in Worcester, Mass. It was a great event, and I pleased to see so many people venture out on a cold night to hear what I had to say.

As I surveyed the crowd from the podium, I spotted an old friend in the third row: Ellery Schempp.