U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Ban Bible Readingin Schools

The United States Supreme Court yesterday refused to ban daily reading of five verses of the Bible and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer from public schools. The decision, taken by 6 to 3, threw out a case challenging the practice in the schools of New Jersey. However, the court did not pass on the Constitutionality of the practice.

The effect of the dismissal of the case is to let the New Jersey law stand unchanged. In 34 other states the Bible is read in public schools, either by option or requirement. While the subject of Bible reading in New Jersey was dealt with the Supreme Court postponed action on the “released time” dispute, whereby New York City pupils are freed from classes one hour weekly to receive religious instruction elsewhere.

The dismissal of the case was on the ground that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction because the petitioners attacking the New Jersey law had not established that they suffered special damage. The petitioners were Donald R. Doremus and Mrs. Anna E. Klein. They brought a taxpayer suit charging violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote the 6-3 decision for himself, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson and Justices Hugo L. Black, Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark and Sherman Minton. Justice William O. Douglas wrote a dissent in which Justices Stanley F. Reed and Harold H. Burton concurred. Justice Jackson’s opinion said a single girl student was involved in the case and no assertion had been made that “she was injured or even offended” by listening to Bible reading.

The New Jersey law requires the reading of at least five verses from the Old Testament each school day. It also permits, but does not require, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Any pupil who does not wish to participate in the prayer may leave the classroom. The complainants had alleged that the New Jersey statutes were unconstitutional because of an “intermingling of religion and government.” They said also that the New Jersey law gave preference to one religion over another by limiting Bible readings to the Old Testament and by specifying the Lords Prayer.

Bible reading in public schools is required in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania. Tennessee and the District of Columbia. It is said to be permissive in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Cases sustaining the reading of the Bible (among them decisions by courts in Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and New York) were said to “outnumber the cases” where the reading was prohibited. Decisions in Illinois, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Ohio have barred the practice.

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