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Radio Smart Talk: Ellery Schempp, who brought suit that struck down school prayer 50 years ago

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jun 11, 2013 8:35 AM

Radio Smart Talk for Tuesday, June 11:

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"No state law or school board may require that passages from the Bible be read or that the Lord's Prayer be recited in the public schools . . . even if individual students may be excused from attending or participating."

That was the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on June 17, 1963 in the case School District of Abington Township vs Schempp.  In the 50 years since, many simply describe it as the case that removed prayer from public schools.  That description wouldn't tell the whole story though.

Before the ruling, each school day in Pennsylvania began with a reading from the Bible and the Lord's Prayer.

In November, 1956, 16-year-old Ellery Schempp silently read the Quran during the morning devotional at Abington High School near Philadelphia.  It wasn't because Schempp was a Muslim -- he was doing it out of protest.  When the teenager refused to participate, he was sent to the principal's office.

Schempp eventually filed the suit that challenged school-sponsored school prayer.

Ellery Schempp will be a guest on Tuesday's Radio Smart Talk -- 50 years after the Supreme Court ruling that changed history.

Also appearing on the program will be Lauri Lebo, a volunteer board member with the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union.  Lebo authored the book, The Devil in Dover after covering the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District intelligent design case for the York Daily Record in 2004 and 2005.

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Ellery Schempp and Lauri Lebo

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Comments: 6

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-06-11 08:48

    Manuel in Carlisle writes:
    Do your guests feel that the system has moved too far in the opposing direction. Where schools now compel students that they CANNOT read scripture in school, and cannot pray publicly on their own in school. And this does occur. My daughter, in elementary school was given the assignment to bring in her favorite book, and each student would read. My daughter chose to read from the Bible, and when she stood to read, the teacher stopped her, and told her she was not allowed to read that in school. The student after her, read from 50 Shades of Grey. In the 8th grade.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-06-11 08:49

    Lee in York writes:
    In about 1956, I was in 5th or 6th grade in a new school and each day they said the Lord's Prayer and each student took a turn reading from the Bible. I specifically remember that the Lord's Prayer was the Protestant version and the Bible was the King James version. I was Catholic and the entire exercise made me feel out of place. Most people don't understand that the different prayers even within Christianity can also be unsetling for a child. I had to ask my Mother what I should do during the prayers.

    My turn to read was coming and I was desperately trying to find the passage of the Bible (which was the song of Solomon) where the speaker was describing his wife in fairly graphic detail (thy breasts are like two young roes). I wanted to see what the reaction of the teacher would be. Unfortunately, I just couldn't find the passage.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-06-11 08:49

    Molly writes:
    THANK YOU for doing this show! Mr. Schempp, thank you for standing up for secular students like myself – I grew up in a VERY conservative school district and was told at my graduation that if I found the Lord, I would find my way in the world. How do you feel about the direction Governor Corbett wants to take public education in this state (i.e. vouchers for private, religious schools?)

    Thank you!

  • Roz img 2013-06-11 08:54

    Yes, agree totally w/ no prayer in school. However, moment of thanks in am would be good after addressing the flag .

    Also, I wrote numerous letters to our Middle School Administrators about sterilization of religion in school re: singing Xmas and Hanukkah , Kwanzaa songs... Ramadon too. Please let's hear all of them. If any one is offended, let them submit their religious/atheistic songs to be sung at the December Spring... whatever concerts. They are rich and shouldn't be excluded!

    -Thanks, Rose

  • Roger & Mary Kay img 2013-06-11 08:54

    As an 8th grade student in Ohio in the 50's, though the law did not require daily Bible reading, a teacher required another student to read the Bible for the 45 minute class period. This gave some students a negative view of school and the Bible. As a substitute teacher in PA a few years ago I taught some parables which were printed in a literature book. People understand rulings in many different ways, too many of them distorted, and also respond in varying ways.

  • Robert Colgan img 2013-06-11 09:08

    "Compulsory education" is not different at all from compulsory religious advocacy-----------I wish that the ACLU or some group would see that the rights of children are denied every day in every school in America: by forcing them to be in attendance at classes, by forcing them to "learn," by forcing them to be "working" at study, by physically entrapping them and mentally coercing them to be members of a group not of their choosing, and by denying them their right to play---------which is the natural state of a child......we have completely subjugated our children and enslaved them to a system against their wills.

    We got rid of criminal child labor in factories and sweatshops that maimed and killed children---------but we simply moved that factory labor to the classroom and maim and kill our children's freedom to be children, to be themselves, to have their own say in how they want to live and think.
    And we do this "in their best interest"-----No, it's not their best interest at all. Far from it. Letting them be children would be in their best interest. Protecting them from harm would be in their best interest. Making sure they have love, food, shelter, and feel safe would be in their best interest.

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