Religion in the Public Schools
Significant Supreme Court Rulings
Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925)
Guaranteed parents the right to enroll their children in private schools, whether religious or secular.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Upheld right of students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse to salute the American flag, affirming right of students to resist compulsory recitation of official orthodoxy.
McCollum v. Board of Education (1948)
Prohibited use of public schools for voluntary, privately funded religious classes as violation of the Establishment Clause.
Zorach v. Clauson (1952)
Allowed public schools to excuse students to attend religious classes away from school property.
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
Prohibited recitation of a school-sponsored, nonsectarian prayer as violation of Establishment Clause ban on government creating and sponsoring a religious activity.
Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)
In prohibiting a program of daily Bible reading in public schools, ruled that government action must have a predominantly secular purpose.
Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
Overturned statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution, on basis that government sought to ban material objectionable to a particular religion.
Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969)
Upholding students’ right to wear armbands protesting the Vietnam War, ruled that school authorities cannot suppress expression unless it causes material disruption or violates the rights of others.
Wisconsin v.Yoder (1972)
In case involving Old Order Amish, ruled that the Free Exercise Clause limited the state’s power to require children to attend school.
Widmar v. Vincent (1981)
Ruled that a state university could not exclude a student group from using school buildings on the basis of the group’s religious viewpoint.
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
Overturned statute requiring teaching of both evolution and creationism, concluding that the law impermissibly promoted a particular religious belief.
Board of Education v. Mergens (1990)
Upholding the Equal Access Act, ruled that high schools, like universities, had an obligation to provide equal access to public facilities to all groups, including religious organizations.
Lee v.Weisman (1992)
Prohibited school-sponsored prayer delivered by invited clergy at a school commencement, on the grounds that graduating students were being forced to participate in a religious ceremony.
Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995)
Ruled that the Free Speech Clause required the state university to provide the same financial subsidy for a student Christian publication as for all other publications.
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000)
Ruled that public schools may not sponsor studentrecited prayer at athletic contests or other school events.
Good News Club v. Milford Central School District (2001)
Held that the Free Speech Clause prohibited an elementary school from excluding an evangelical Christian program from a list of approved after-school activities.
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