The Question of Bible reading in public schools is being argued before the United States Supreme Court this week for the first time in American history. The high court has agreed to hear arguments on two lower court decisions: a United States District Court (E.D. Pa.) decision holding Bible reading unconstitutional and a Maryland Court of Appeals decision declaring the opposite. A third case, in which Florida’s Supreme Court upheld Bible reading, is still on the United States Supreme Court’s docket awaiting action.
Until recently lawfulness of Bible reading in public schools depended solely upon the provisions of the various state constitutions and how state courts interpreted them. But in 1940 the United States Supreme Court decided that the guarantees of the First Amendment—that “Congress shall make no Law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—apply to the state legislatures as well.
In 1958 the first Bible-reading case came into federal court. Edward and Sidney Schempp, Unitarians, charged that Pennsylvania violated both the establishment clause and the free-exercise clause in passing Section 1516 of the Public School Act, which provided that “at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day.” In the Abington Senior High School, which the Schempps’ children attended, the procedure was to read the ten verses over the loudspeaker while the pupils remained seated at attention. Then the children stood, repeated the Lord’s Prayer, and saluted the flag.
Defendants contended that (1) because Bible reading promotes pupils’ morals, the Commonwealth has the right to incorporate Bible reading into the educational ...1
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