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Federal Court in Pennsylvania to Decide on Bible Reading in Schools

A special three-judge Ederal court took under advisement today a suit contending that the Pennsylvania law on Bible reading in the schools was still unconstitutional despite an amendment allowing children to be excused from participation in the classroom readings.

Henry W. Sawyer, attorney for Edward L. Schemp of Roslyn, argued that even with the amendment, the state law was unconstitutional because it “prefers one religion over another, contrary to the basic concept of the First Amendment.”

Sydney C. Orlofsky, representing the local Jewish Community Council, submitted a brief to the court which took the same position. The JCRC previously had filed a brief as friend of the court in which it contended that the growth of both religion and democratic society was best fostered in the home and houses of worship. Defendants in the suit are the School District of Abington Township and Charles H. Boehm, superintendent of public instruction in Pennsylvania. The Schemps are Unitarians.

Prior to being amended, the law was ruled unconstitutional by a Federal court in Philadelphia and the defendants appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court. The high court sent the suit back for more consideration by the local Federal court because of the amendment.

C. Brewster Rhodes, school district attorney, argued that the amendment eliminated compulsion, that the Schemps had failed to show that any of their rights had been hurt and that the three-judge Federal court had no jurisdiction. At the close of the lengthy hearing, Chief Judge John Biggs, Jr. of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and District judges William H. Kirpatrick and W. W. Kraft, Jr. instructed both sides for briefs on findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Legal authorities said that whatever the special court decides, an appeal was certain to be carried by the losing parties to the United States Supreme Court in time for it to act on the issue before its June 1962 adjournment.

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