Case Name: School
District of Abington Township v. Schempp
Year Case Decided by
Supreme Court: 1963 ?
Facts that triggered
the dispute: Ellery Schempp in
protest of his school’s policy which required reading from the bible
daily, chose on his day of reading to read from the Koran rather than the
KJV Bible, this led to his suspension from school. Ellery’s parents Edward
and Sidney Schempp then sought assistance from the ACLU.
Statute: The Schempp family contends that the
Pennsylvania law that mandates ten verses of the bible be read daily at
the beginning of the school day is unconstitutional.
Provision of the
Constitution: The Schempp
family argues that the Pennsylvania law violates the establishment clause
of the constitution.
Legal Question: Is
the requirement of daily bible readings in a public school an act of religious
devotion, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the constitution? ?
Outcome: In an 8-1
decision the court ruled in favor of Schempp. ?
Legal Reasoning of the
Majority: In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Clark held
The court argues that using prayer as an
“opening exercise” is a state sanctioned religious ceremony.
Clark further disagrees with the township’s
assertion that the reading of the bible and Lord’s prayer were done in a
secular way. Rather, he agrees with the trial court, so ruled that the acts
were religious by their very nature.
With the idea in mind that the acts themselves
were religious as well as mandated by law, then it becomes clear that the
statute is in violation of the Establishment clause. However, he was not saying
that the bible couldn’t be studied in a secular way, rather he says it could be
and the Supreme Court would have no ability to stop that from occurring.
Clark dismissed the appellant’s notion that the
law was constitutional because parental waivers were available to students,
Clark argues that the ability of parents to remove specific children did not shield
the law from questions of constitutionality.
Not only was the Establishment clause meant to
stop the sponsoring of a particular religion, but it was meant to stop the sponsorship
of religion generally.
Legal Doctrine: Affirmed
the position that state sponsored prayer was in direct violation of the
Establishment Clause. ?
10. Other points of View:
Justice Douglas held the concurring
The Establishment clauses precludes the state
from being able to use funding or power to give religious institutions power,
this includes schools promoting religious rhetoric.
Argues that this law is a “mechanism of the
state” for promoting a particular religious affiliation that not everyone
Justice Brennan held the concurring
Clarifies that while he agrees with the decision
of the court, it is important to note that not all intermingling of the public and
religion is unconstitutional.
Justice Goldberg, Joined by Justice
Harlan, held the concurring opinion:
The fact that they have chosen a specific prayer
or “devotional liturgy” is without constitutional grounds.
You can’t make accommodations to get around
prayer in school rules. As long as children’s attendance at school is mandatory
school prayer will be subject to the Establishment clause of the constitution.
Justice Stewart held the dissenting
The case boils down to whether or not there is
evidence of coercion directed towards the students. Stewart argues that there
is no evidence to suggest that there is, or that there would be punishment for
the students who chose to exercise their right not to participate.
Argues that Schempp is merely presenting a “prophecy”
of what would happen if a student made a request to be excused.