On June 17, 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Abington School District v. Schempp. The Court held that a pubic school teacher could not lead children in prayer or Bible reading. It continues to be one of the most misunderstood rulings of the Court.
This decision was published during the summer break between my fifth grade and sixth grade year at Biltmore Elementary in Jacksonville, Florida. I do not recall this ruling having any significant impact on my faith then or now.
People said then, and are still saying it today, that when prayer and Bible reading were forbidden in the public classroom that God had been kicked out of the public schools. This article is written to dispel the misinformation about this infamous ruling.
First, the Supreme Court cannot banish the Supreme Being from anywhere. People may ignore God and refuse to recognize His presence, but they cannot remove Him from the public classroom anymore than they can cause the Sun to quit shining. Just because the teacher does not read the Bible in the classroom, or the Lord’s Prayer is not recited as we when we were in school, does not mean we should start agreeing with the atheists that there is no God in the classroom.
While teachers are forbidden to lead their students in prayer or read the Scriptures to them, there is nothing in this decision that denies a teacher or student the right to read the Bible or pray at school when on their own time. A teacher during planning period, or a student in study hall, can exercise their freedom of religion by reading from their Bible and praying if they wish. Both are free to thank God for His providence when they say grace over their lunch.
The idea that reading the Bible or praying is absolutely forbidden in the public school is not true. We come closer to losing the rights we do have when we fail to practice them because of ignorance. Rather than continue to whine and misinform the public about Bible reading and prayer, let us encourage our educators to put a Bible in their briefcase and our children to put one in their book bag and put the Bible and prayer back in our schools.
Christians should remember the responsibility to teach the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer was laid on the parents not teachers. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons (id est, your children) and shall talk of them when you sit in your house…,” Deuteronomy 6:6-7. We should not require the school to do what God ordianed the home to do.
Before complaining about the public school system we should remember most of us would not be able to read the Bible or anything else if it were not for public school teachers.