June 17th will mark the 50th anniversary of Abington School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court case that finally ended mandatory Bible readings in public schools.
Abington Senior High School, where a young Ellery Schempp took a stand against reading the Bible, is in Pennsylvania, which is why it might strike you as a little strange that the Public School Code of 1949 — the document explaining how the state’s public schools must operate and which gets amended when needed — still includes Section 1516, laying out how “at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day”:
Yes, it’s completely unenforceable. Yes, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. But it’s still in the books.
But if Rep. Mark Cohen gets his way, Section 1516 will soon be eliminated.
Cohen, a Democrat from Philadelphia, sent an email to his House colleagues yesterday letting them know in advance that he plans to introduce legislation to repeal Section 1516 for good:
My legislation to repeal this unenforceable section of the Public School Code would be consistent with the decision of the United States Supreme Court striking down public school-sponsored Bible reading and prayer as unconstitutional in the landmark case School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, decided on June 17, 1963. Note the stirring words of Justice Tom C. Clark in that decision:
“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.”
Please join me in repealing Section 1516 of the Public School Code mandating the reading of the Holy Bible in public schools, updating the code and making it consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in the Schempp case.
This should be a non-controversial issue. It’s already the law of the land. But keep in mind this is a House that has Republicans in the majority and is known for passing all sorts of pro-religion legislation. 2012 was the Year of the Bible. October, 2012 was declared Prayer Month. May 3rd, 2012 was a Day of Prayer. And just last month, they considered a resolution declaring “American Religious History Week” which centered around Christianity (of course).
Like I said, Cohen’s proposal should be non-controversial. But we’re talking about the Pennsylvania House here. Who knows how they’ll approach this.
Incidentally, Rep. Cohen initially voted for the Year of the Bible resolution only to apologize for it later. Getting Section 1516 repealed would be a great way to atone for his misguided vote.