This month is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Abington Township v Schempp, a case launched by my friend Ellery Schempp when he refused to read the Bible or recite the Lord’s Prayer as required by state law at the time. The ruling eliminated those two practices in public schools. The resolution declares June to be Public School Religious Freedom Month. It’s a pretty remarkable resolution.
Designating the month of June 2013 as “Public School Religious Freedom Month” in Pennsylvania.
WHEREAS, The founders of the United States of America provided for the separation of religion and government through
the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; and
WHEREAS, These protections were applied to this Commonwealth and other states through the Fourteenth Amendment; and
WHEREAS, The Commonwealth and other states enacted legislation mandating daily school-sponsored Bible reading and
prayer in public schools, which often conflicted with the personal religious perspectives of nonbelievers, agnostics,
atheists and believers of many different faiths; and
WHEREAS, Section 3 of Article I of the Constitution of Pennsylvania states that “no human authority can, in any case
whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience”; and
WHEREAS, On June 17, 1963, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of School District of
Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, consolidated with Murray v. Curlett, striking down public school-sponsored Bible reading and prayer as unconstitutional; andWHEREAS, The decision is recognized by legal scholars as a landmark case with significant precedential value, laying the groundwork for other cases concerning religion in public schools and helping to pave the way for a public school system that does not discriminate against other faiths and philosophies; and
WHEREAS, The decision makes an important distinction between legal, truly voluntary prayer and coercive prayer in public schools and lays down reasonable guidelines by allowing the academic study about religion, while forbidding mandatory forms of worship; and
WHEREAS, In Schempp, Justice Tom C. Clark affirmed the value of freedom of conscience in stirring words, writing, “The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality”; and
WHEREAS, June 17, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the Schempp decision, which protects the right of conscience and
shields young people from divisive government-sanctioned religious activities in public schools, while protecting
individual, nondisruptive forms of school prayer; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives designate the month of June 2013 as “Public School Religious Freedom Month” in Pennsylvania.
I’m astonished that this resolution was passed unanimously with such strong language in it, especially given the Pennsylvania legislature’s penchant for passing laws that clearly contradict that language.