Lee v. Weisman


Vine & Fig Tree's
of Church and State

The Bible in Public Schools
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963)

This case involved yet another voluntary activity by students: the use of the Scriptures. At issue was a Pennsylvania policy which stated:

Each school... shall be opened by the reading, without comment, of a chapter in the Holy Bible. . .. Participation in the opening exercises . . is voluntary. The student reading the verses from the Bible may select the passages and read from any version he chooses.[49]

The Court further explained:

There are no prefatory statements, no questions asked or solicited, no comments or explanations made and no interpretations given at or during the exercises. The students and parents are advised that the student may absent himself from the classroom or, should he elect to remain, not participate in the exercises.[50]

Like the New York prayer, this seemed to be a relatively innocuous activity. It was voluntary; it was student-led; no sectarian instruction or comments were permitted. Yet today's civil libertarians portray this as a coercion case -- so much so, they claim, that Edward Schempp thought himself forced to file suit to relieve his children from the coercion. However, the facts of the case disprove this assertion:

Roger and Donna [two of the Schempp children] testified that they had never protested to their teachers or other persons of authority in the school system concerning the practices of which they now complain [in this lawsuit]. In fact, on occasion, Donna herself had volunteered to read the Bible.[51] (emphasis added)

Furthermore, so non-coercive was the policy that while other children were reading the Bible, one of the Schempp children had been permitted to read the Koran.[52] The facts in the case clearly establish that there was no coercion. (However, when this case finally reached the Supreme Court, these facts, presented in the District Court, were ignored.)

Another argument raised then (and still raised today) is that the school setting is no place for religious activities; if such activities are to occur it should be at home-or in a private school. Justice Stewart, in his dissent, pointed out the constitutional fallacy of such arguments;

only for the rich?

It might be argued here that parents who wanted their children to be exposed to religious influences in school could... send their children to private or parochial schools. But the consideration which renders this contention too facile [simplistic] to be determinative [a factor] has already been recognized by the Court: "Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion are available to all, not merely to those who can pay their own way." Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 111.

only for the home?

It might also be argued that parents who want their children exposed to religious influences can adequately fulfill that wish off school property and outside school time. With all its surface persuasiveness, however, this argument seriously misconceives the basic constitutional justification for permitting the exercises at issue in these cases. For a compulsory state educational system so structures a child's life that if religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage. Viewed in this light, permission of such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.[53]

Religion is never a purely private affair. Those who tell you your religion should be "private" are attempting to make their religion the basis for public and political power over you.

The State's compulsory schooling laws send a clear message to kids:

Your leaders want you in school because we want to teach you the things that are most important for you to know in order to become a fully human productive citizen of this great nation.

What is the first lesson students learn in secular schools? God, religion, and morality are not very important. "If they were, surely our educational experts would see to it that we learned what we need to know." Kids aren't stupid. They realize the implications of not making the Bible our foundational school textbook.

We can begin to see that it is not just that arguments against Christianity in public schools are fallacious. There are compelling social reasons for making Christianity the foundation of everything that is taught in school, and the Framers of the Constitution understood these reasons.

There is not a single Signer of the Constitution who would have agreed that the Constitution he was signing was intended to give the federal government the power to order municipal schools to remove The Ten Commandments and the Bible. The Founders' opinion of the Bible, and of its use in schools, was clear:

The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating [extinguishing] Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.[54] [T]he Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life. . . . [It] should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness.[55]

[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.[56]

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited.... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.[57] I have examined all [religions]... and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.[58]

[T]he Bible.... [is] a book containing the history of all men and of all nations and... [is] a necessary part of a polite education.[59]

The Bible itself [is] the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but of the world. [60]

To a man of liberal education, the study of history is not only useful, and important, but altogether indispensable, and with regard to the history contained in the Bible . . . "it is not so much praiseworthy to be acquainted with as it is shameful to be ignorant of it."[61]

The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history. They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is: a contradictory creature that seeing and approving of what is good, pursues and performs what is evil. All of private and of public life is there displayed.... From the same pure fountain of wisdom we learn that vice destroys freedom; that arbitrary power is founded on public immorality.[62]

[The Bible] is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.[63]

[T]o the free and universal reading of the Bible in that age, men were much indebted for right views of civil liberty. The Bible is . . . a book which teaches man his own individual responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality with his fellow man.[64]

The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.[65]

The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal [secular] concerns of men.[66]

Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses.[67]

Not only did the Abington Court disregard these stated beliefs of the Founders, it falsely asserted:

The [First] Amendment's purpose was not to strike merely at the official establishment of a single sect . . . . It was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority.[68] (emphasis added)

This absurd claim completely reverses the Founders' intent; their purpose for the First Amendment was to "strike at the official establishment of a single sect" and definitely was not to completely and permanently separate the religious and civil spheres. Such a separation would mean that our nation was not a nation "under God." The purpose of the First Amendment was to separate the ecclesiastical and civil spheres, not the religious and civil spheres. Most Americans have not given due consideration to this distinction. The Supreme Court is either just as ignorant as these Americans, or else the Court self-consciously opposes the true intentions of the Founding Fathers. In either case, the Justices have not kept their oath of office. America's Founding Fathers lived in a religious nation, and their Constitution did not change this. The United States is a Christian nation, not a secular (atheistic) religion, because it is a nation "under God," it acknowledges its duty to God as a nation, and it endorses and promotes the true religion.

The "separation of church and state" did not mean the "separation of religion and state," much less the "separation of Christianity and the State" until 1947 and more clearly in the early 1960's. In the case of Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), the New York case which removed voluntary prayer from public schools, Justice Douglass, who concurred in the decision of the majority, reminded the Court,

At the same time I cannot say that to authorize this prayer is to establish a religion in the strictly historic meaning of those words. The Court analogizes the present case to those involving the traditional Established Church. We once had an Established Church, the Anglican. All baptisms and marriages had to take place there. That church was supported by taxation. In these and other ways the Anglican Church was favored over the others. The First Amendment put an end to placing any one church in a preferred position. It ended support of any church or all churches by taxation. It went further and prevented secular sanction to any religious ceremony, dogma, or rite. Thus, it prevents civil penalties from being applied against recalcitrants or nonconformists. A religion is not established in the usual sense merely by letting those who choose to do so say the prayer that the public school teacher leads.
Engel at 442 and note 7

The Majority in Abington were wrong: The First Amendment's purpose was "to strike merely at the official establishment of a single sect," not to remove all traces of Christianity from the schools. Again, Justice Douglas:

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system. The Northwest Ordinance, which antedated the First Amendment, provided in Article III that "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

It is possible that by mentioning that the Northwest Ordinance was first passed before the First Amendment, Justice Douglas is trying to lead the reader to think the First Amendment changed the function of the public school, and declared that religion and morality were no longer indispensable supports for the new system of government under the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Northwest Ordinance was re-passed by the same Congress that approved the First Amendment. It accurately reflects the views of those who signed the Constitution. Notice (emphasis added in each quote):

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.[69]
, Farewell Address, 17 Sept. 1796.

The great pillars of all government and of social life . . . [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.[70]

One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law. . . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations. . . . I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.[71]

We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.[72]

[T]he Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth. [and] laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.[73]

[T]he Christian religion -- its general principles -- must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.[74]

True religion always enlarges the heart and strengthens the social tie.[75]

Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.[76]

I have always considered Christianity as the strong ground of republicanism. . . . It is only necessary for republicanism to ally itself to the Christian religion to overturn all the corrupted political and religious institutions in the world.[77]

[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles.... and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.[78]

[N]ational prosperity can neither be attained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.[79]

As guardians of the prosperity, liberty; and morals of the State, we are therefore bound by every injunction of patriotism and wisdom . . . to patronize public improvements and to cherish all institutions for the diffusion of religious knowledge and for the promotion of virtue and piety.[80]

Nowhere can it be demonstrated that the Founders desired to secularize official society and "create a complete separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority." The Abington decision represented a further step in the devolution of the First Amendment by rewriting the intent of those who created the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

[Adapted from David Barton, Original Intent, 160-65.]

49. Abington at 211, n. 4, 207.

50. Abington at 207.

51. Schempp v. School District of Abington; 177 Fed. Supp. 398, 400.

52. Schempp at 401.

53. Abington at 312-313, Stewart, J. (dissenting).

54. Rush, Letters, Vol. I, p.521, to Jeremy Belknap on July 13, 1789.

55. Benjamin Rush, Essays, pp. 94, 100, "A Defence of the Use of the Bible as a School Book."

56. Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co, 1809), pp. 134-135.

57. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.

58. John Adams, Works, Vol. X, p. 85, to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813.

59. Henry Laurens, The Papers of Henry Laurens, George C. Rogers, Jr., and David R. Chesnutt, editors (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1980), Vol. VIII, pp. 426-427, to James Lawrenson on August 19, 1772.

60. Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854), p. 259, 446.

61. John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), p. 34.

62. Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), p. 30, from "An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on September 4, 1816."

63. William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Philadelphia: James Webster, 1818), p. 402. See also George Morgan, Patrick Henry (Philadelphia & London: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929), p. 403.

64. Daniel Webster, Address Delivered at Bunker Hill, June 17, 1843, on the Completion of the Monument (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1843), p. 31. See also W. P. Strickland, History of the American Bible Society from its Organization to the Present Time (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1849), p. 18.

65. John Jay, John Jay: The Winning of the Peace. Unpublished Papers 1780-1784, Richard B. Morris, editor (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980), Vol. II, p. 709, to Peter Augustus Jay on April 8, 1784.

66. Noah Webster, The Holy Bible . . . With Amendments of the Language (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833), p. v.

67. Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland (Baltimore: Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.

68. Abington at 217, quoting Everson v. Board of Education; 330 U.S. 1, 31-32. t

69. Washington, Address . . . Preparatory to His Declination, pp. 22-23.

70. Moses Coit Tyler, Patrick Henry (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1897), p. 409, to Archibald Blair on January 8, 1799.

71. Joseph Story, Life and Letters of Joseph Story, William W. Story, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. II, pp. 8, 92.

72. James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor (Washington: Langtree & O'Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, p. 985, June 28, 1787.

73. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), pp. 5-6.

74. Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster's Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry and in Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young. Delivered in the Supreme Court of the United States, February 10, 1844, in the Case of Stephen Girard's Will (Washington: Printed by Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 41.

75. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. V, p. 272, "The Absolute Necessity of Salvation Through Christ," January 2, 1758.

76. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Presented to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia at their Session in 1785 in Consequence of a Bill Brought into that Assembly for the Establishment of Religion (Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, 1786), p. 4.

77. Rush, Letters, Vol. II, pp. 820-821, to Thomas Jefferson on August 22, 1800.

78. Noah Webster, History, p. 300, 578.

79. Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 47, Governor John Jay on January 6, 1796.

80. Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 136, Governor Daniel Tompkins on November 5, 1816.

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