Major Test Case on Religion in Public Schools Opened in Miami

A major test case in which a number of religious practices in the public schools of Dade County, Florida, are being challenged by four parents, three of them Jewish, started in Circuit Court here today and is expected to last at least one week. The American Jewish Congress is backing the case.

The case marks the first time in American Jurisprudence that a whole constellation of religious practices in the public schools has been attacked in a single suit. Previously, individual practices such as Bible reading, prayer recitation and hymn singing have been challenged in the courts. But the Miami case will test the legality of eight different religious practices. The four parents seek an injunction against the Dade County Board of Public Instruction that will require the school board to discontinue these practices:

1. The regular reading of verses from the Bible in assemblies and classrooms: 2. Explanation, comments and expansion by teachers on verses of the Bible following such reading; 3. Distribution of the Bible and other religious and sectarian literature among the children attending the public schools; 4. Use of public school facilities for Bible instruction after school hours.

The school board will also be required to discontinue the regular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, other religious and sectarian prayers, grace, and the regular singing of religious and sectarian hymns at assemblies and within classrooms.

The parents also demanded the discontinuance of religious holiday observances in schools, such as Christmas programs including Nativity plays, pageants and scenes as well as instruction in the dogma of the birth of Christ; Easter programs including Resurrection; and Hanukah programs, including the lighting of candles.

Objection is also expressed by the parents to the placing of religious and sectarian symbols (crosses, crucifixes) in assembly halls, classrooms and other parts of the public school premises; the conducting of religious and sectarian exercises and processions at school graduation ceremonies; the conducting ‘of a religious census among public school children to ascertain their own religious affiliations and those of their parents; and the imposition of a religious test for teachers and other employees of the public school system as well as the use of religious criteria in the employment and evaluation of teachers and other employees.

These practices, according to an American Jewish Congress spokesman, are “unlawful infringements upon the religious liberty of the school child, and as such are un-Constitutional. At the same time, they are divisive–tending to set child against child along religious lines–and psychologically harmful to children whose religious beliefs or lack of such beliefs are different from those being promoted by the teacher and the school. “

“Religion in the home, in the church and in the synagogue serve incomparably to ennoble the spirit of mankind. Religion in the public schools, however, serves only to harass, hurt and dislocate children of minority faiths and to impair wholesome classroom relationships,” the AJC spokesman emphasized. “The injury done by sectarianism in the schools is thus directed both against the basic principle of religious liberty as guaranteed by our Constitution and against the innocent child forced to participate in religious practices that contradict and countermand everything he has been taught at home or at his house of worship.

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