WASHINGTON (Feb. 28)
The United States Supreme Court took under advisement today the question of whether classroom use of Bible reading rites, and recital of the Lord’s Prayer violate the Constitution.
Today was the second day of oral argument on the issue before the High Tribunal involving two cases appealed, respectively, from decisions by state courts in Maryland and in Pennsylvania. Sixty-six Jewish organizations, acting as “friends of the court, ” had intervened in the case, holding that the public schools exercises through religious readings or recitations were unconstitutional. The attorneys-general of 19 states argued on the opposite side. After argument was completed today, it was indicated that decisions may be expected before the present Court term ends next June.
Henry W. Sawyer, an attorney, representing a Unitarian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Schempp, who have two children in Abington High School, in Pennsylvania, maintained that the Pennsylvania law was just as unconstitutional as the New York Regent’s prayer banned last year. Attorney Philip H. Ward, representing the Abington Township School District, sought to convince skeptical justices that Bible reading in Pennsylvania is for “moral” rather than “religious” purposes.
Justice Arthur J. Goldberg interjected that “the Bible, if anything, is the greatest religious document the world has ever had. But you read it not for what it is but for something else.” Justice Hugo L. Black commented that the most productive years of Christianity were enjoyed when the Government did not enforce religion, while Christianity’s worst years occurred when the Government was linked with religion.