Ellery Schempp and the Bible

I was reading the latest Freethought Today (courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and saw a transcript of Ellery Schempp‘s speech from FFRF’s recent convention.

Ellery is the man who, as a boy, played a major role in getting forced prayer out of public schools. He’s a freethought hero, if ever there was one.

I love this part of his speech:

[The Constitution] mentions religion just twice, and both times the word “no” is attached. The first mention is Article VI: “no religious test shall ever be required…” The second time is in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Constitution is a purely humanistic, religiously neutral, secular, and political document. No delegate thought the idea of a bicameral legislature came from divine revelation.

The bible never once mentions democracy, a republic, or anything related to American values. The bible never once mentions the freedom of speech or freedom of religion. It does not mention separation of powers and limitations on the power of the executive, nor an independent judicial branch. It does not mention elections or voting. The bible provides no model for “good” government or for personal freedoms. It is a purely religious/theological document.

So it seems to me that bible-reading and prayer in schools do not promote American civic or patriotic values at all.

And I didn’t know this piece of information, but it’s stunning. After Ellery had gotten the ACLU involved in the case (when he was in high school), his principal was angry. How angry? This angry:

I later learned that my principal wrote letters of disrecommendation to every college I applied to.

I can’t believe someone who has a career in education would try to sabotage a student who was clearly well-educated, especially when it came to issues that mattered.

In any case, Ellery was elected to his high school’s Hall of Fame later in life:

In 2002, I was elected to the Abington High School Hall of Fame. I am proud of this and proud of Abington. I am proud that Abington schools recognized that we thought of a principle that would benefit all students. I accepted my award in recognition of my many great teachers and friends, who contributed to my understandings.

He’s just an inspiration to anyone who takes a stand on issues that matter to them.

If you’re interested, there’s a book out about Ellery’s story, written by Professor Stephen D. Solomon of New York University. It’s called Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • The Unbrainwashed

    It’s people like him that are our hope for the future and a secular nation free of dogmatic, rigid thinking. I applaud his courage in taking a stand for what is right. I know I could never do something like that, given the backlash one would have to endure. Hell, no one in my family besides my immediate family know of my unbelief (not to mention my disdain for all things religious).

  • Tolga K.

    I used to not have anyone to write about when presented with the unimaginative “Who’s your hero?” essays that we’ve all gotten through the years. It’s a shame that I’m just now hearing about people I can truly look up to, long after I could have pissed some teachers off writing about them.

  • Karen

    He’s one of my heroes, for sure. Great to hear that his high school had the guts to recognize him eventually. I bet they got plenty of kick-back on that from some segments of the community and alumni.


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