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U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Question of Religious Instruction

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(Jewish Daily Bulletin)

Constitutionality of the legislative act authorizing the religious instruction of pupils of the public schools one hour a week during school hours, outside of school buildings, was argued before the Appellate Division, Third Department, of the Supreme Court, yesterday, in the test case instituted by Joseph Lewis, President of the Free Thinkers’ Society, against Dr. Frank P. Graves, Commissioner of Education.

The attack on the law was made by Arthur Garfield Hays and John C. Mahon of New York, counsel for the Free Thinkers’ Society, on the principal grounds that the practice violates one of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution, declaring that the State and the Church shall remain separate. They also argued that it was in conflict with the compulsory school attendance law which the Commissioner of Education is required to enforce.

Ernest E. Cole, counsel for the State Department of Education, argued that not to permit the absence of children from regular school classes to attend their church schools would be an interference with religious liberty and that no pupil is required to attend the church classes without the consent of the parent. He also declared that since local boards of education have discretion over the courses of study and the laws do not specify the number of hours of the school sessions, they may provide for the dismissal of the pupils for certain periods.

Charles H. Tuttle argued the case for the Greater New York Federation of Churches and the New York State Sunday School Association.

“The right of the parent to direct the training and nurture the character of the child is one of the most inalienable liberties guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by the Bill of Rights of this State,” said Mr. Tuttle.

“The local school boards of this State, which have the authority to prescribe the curriculum and make all reasonable rules and regulations, have the power to give reasonable recognition to this right and to recognize that, according to the view of most parents, religion is the most essential and an increasingly important element in the prescribed subjects of civics, citizenship and patriotism.

“While such boards may not themselves, under the Constitution, expend public money upon religious education in connection with these prescribed subjects, they have the power to honor the views of parents who feel that any instruction in these subjects which excludes religion altogether is, in effect, instruction in irreligion and undermines the very basis of all good citizenship, honest government and enlightened patriotism.”

The case, it is expected, will go to the Court of Appeals and then to the United States Supreme Court.

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