Vine & Fig Tree's
of Church and State
The Bible in Public Schools
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp
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.
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
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
[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.
BENJAMIN RUSH, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION
[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.
FISHER AMES, AUTHOR OF THE HOUSE LANGUAGE
FOR THE FIRST AMENDMENT
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.
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.
[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.
HENRY LAURENS, PRESIDENT OF CONTINENTAL CONGRESS;
U.S. DIPLOMAT; SELECTED AS DELEGATE TO THE
The Bible itself [is] the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but
of the world. 
JOSEPH STORY, U.S. SUPREME COURT
JUSTICE; FATHER OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE
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."
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
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.
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, PENMAN AND SIGNER OF
[The Bible] is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever
[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.
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.
JOHN JAY, ORIGINAL CHIEF-JUSTICE OF
THE U S. SUPREME COURT
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.
Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked
JAMES MCHENRY, SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION
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.
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
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.
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.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, 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.
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
JOSEPH STORY, U S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE;
FATHER OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE
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.
[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.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
[T]he Christian religion -- its general principles -- must ever be regarded
among us as the foundation of civil society.
True religion always enlarges the heart and strengthens the social tie.
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.
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
BENJAMIN RUSH, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION
[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.
[N]ational prosperity can neither be attained nor preserved without
the favor of Providence.
JOHN JAY, ORIGINAL CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE
U.S. SUPREME COURT
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.
DANIEL TOMPKINS, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK;
VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED
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,
49. Abington at 211, n. 4, 207.
50. Abington at 207.
51. Schempp v. School District of Abington; 177 Fed. Supp. 398,
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,
58. John Adams, Works, Vol. X, p. 85, to Thomas Jefferson on December
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,
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
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.