Public attention has been concentrated for several years on attempts in many communities to achieve school desegregation. But few people have taken much note of the effects on schools of the United States Supreme Court decisions on required school prayer (Engle v. Vitale, 1962) and Bible reading (Schempp v. Abington, 1963). These decisions did not remove God from the classroom. They did not even remove religion from the classroom. But they did force school officials to take a new look at the role of religion in the public-school program.

These decisions mean at the least that school officials:

1. May not prescribe formal prayer, Bible readings, or other exercises that may be construed to be acts of worship.

2. Cannot assume that all their students are Christians, or even that all of them adhere to some religion.

These two Supreme Court decisions were not anti-religious. Rather, they affirmed that our society is based on genuine religious freedom. And this religious freedom must be more, history has shown, than mere religious toleration. Evangelicals are convinced that Christianity is the one true religion. However, other religious groups have the same opinion of their own beliefs. In a society that assures impartial religious liberty, the government must remain neutral. In effect, it must act as though all religions were true; as the U. S. Supreme Court said in 1871 (Watson v. Jones), “the law knows no heresy …” Assumption by the government of the superiority of one religion over another implants the seeds of religious persecution in the social structure.

Furthermore, the government must respect a citizen’s right to have no religion. As Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson pointed out in his dissent to Zorach v. Clauson (1952), ...

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