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Case Analysis (Schempp)

Case Analysis (Schempp)

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Published by: api-3820126 on Oct 18, 2008
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Analysis of the Supreme Court Case
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp
Craig Lester
Milligan College
Religion in schools is a volatile and emotional issue. Schools have struggled to follow
constitutional mandates in order to avoid potential lawsuits. The landmark case\u201cSchool
District of Abington v. Schempp\u201d (1963) has had a huge impact on religion in our public
Facts of the Case
The Schempp family, who were Unitarians, brought suit against the State of Pennsylvania

because of the states policy that stated
At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening
of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be excused from such Bible
reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the written request of his parent or

Immediately following was the recital of the Lord\u2019s Prayer. The suit claimed their first
amendment rights had been violated. The court ruled in favor of the Schempp family because
the first amendment prohibition against \u201c an establishment of religion\u201d. They reasoned \u201cthe
readings and recitations were essentially religious ceremonies and were \u2018intended by the State
to be so.\u2019\u201d (Justia, 2007)

In its decision the court gave a test that may be applied. (Justia, 2007)
The test may be stated as follows: what are the purpose and the primary effect of the
enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment
exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to
say that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular
legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion.

The court did mention the importance of religious knowledge and how it could be

implemented. Justice Clark in his majority opinion stated (Justia, 2007)
It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of
comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement
of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary
and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible
or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education,
may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.

Impact on Public Education

Prayer in public schools was commonplace in schools for much of our history. This case
settled the question as to officially sanctioned prayer, but many cases followed questioning
things such as prayer at school events and student religious expression. Schools must balance
the requirement to be neutral (non-endorsement) and students right to free expression of
religion. (Bosher, 2004, pp. 80-81). School district policy must conform to the findings of this
case. The policy of Abington School District is what led to the lawsuit. School Districts must
maintain complete neutrality in regard to religion. School districts should include in the
curriculum a class on the Bible. The statement by Justice Clark above is very important. He
gives school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and students the reasons we should
teach about the Bible (or comparative religion, etc.) and how to accomplish it while being
consistent with the First Amendment. If school districts do include a class on the Bible, they
must choose a textbook that fits the objective of a secular purpose. Teachers would need to be
trained on how to teach such a course. Some teachers are wary of discussing anything

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