Excerpted from Chapter 5 of Revelation 18 and the fate of America.]
. . . and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”
Prayer Out of the Schools. The United States Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren issued three crushing decisions on prayer in public schools. The first was in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) and two in 1963 (Murray v. Curlett and Abington Township School District v. Schempp). The decision to ban prayer and Bible reading from public schools was made as a result of the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the First Amendment and the “wall of separation between church and state” dogma.
In the 1962 Engel v. Vitale case the issue centered on a prayer drafted by the New York State Board of Regents. It simply read: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” Although it was not a biblical prayer or denominational prayer, the parents of ten students took offense and sued the Hyde Park, New York school district claiming the prayer violated the U.S. Constitution.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.
George Washington, Farewell Address, September 17, 1796
The Board of Regents believed that such a non-descript, non-denominational prayer would get the students off to a good daily start and encourage good moral character, promote spiritual guidance and help overcome juvenile delinquency. Since students were not required to participate and participation in the prayer was completely optional, the educators felt they were on solid constitutional ground.
The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 3, 1962. Nearly three months later the Court rendered a majority 6-1 decision on June 25. Associate Justice Hugo Black rendered the opinion for the Court.
In part, Justice Black wrote for the majority: “This daily procedure was adopted on the recommendation of the State Board of Regents . . . they recommended and published as a part of their ‘Statement on Moral and Spiritual Training in the Schools,’ saying: ‘We believe that this Statement will be subscribed to by all men and women of good will, and we call upon all of them to aid in giving life to our program.’
“. . . We think that by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents’ prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. . . .”
Without citing any references, Justice Black then went on to enlist Thomas Jefferson to support his contention and conclusions about the “religious nature of prayer”.
Hear my prayer, O God; Give ear to the words of my mouth.
In the paragraph containing the Court’s decision, Black wrote: “The petitioners contend among other things that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State’s use of the Regents’ prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention since we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion
must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”
Associate Justice Potter Stewart was the lone dissenting vote. Justices Felix Frankfurter and Byron White took no part in the decision.
In part, Justice Stewart summarized the case as he saw it. “A local school board in New York has provided that those pupils who wish to do so may join in a brief prayer at the beginning of each school day, acknowledging their dependence upon God and asking His blessing upon them and upon their parents, their teachers, and their country. The Court today decides that in permitting this brief nondenominational prayer the school board has violated the Constitution of the United States. I think this decision is wrong.”
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (1915-1985)
Justice Stewart was appointed to the Court on October 14, 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the following May in a 70-17 vote. All dissenters were Democrats. Stewart was a centrist Republican who believed that the Warren Court misinterpreted the First Amendment “Establishment Clause” and exceeded the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution.
“The Court does not hold, nor could it,” Stewart wrote, “that New York has interfered with the free exercise of anybody’s religion. For the state courts have made clear that those who object to reciting the prayer must be entirely free of any compulsion to do so, including any ‘embarrassments and pressures.’. . . the Court says that in permitting school children to say this simple prayer, the New York authorities have established ‘an official religion.’
“With all respect,” he continued, “I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation. . . .”
Religion is necessary to correct the effects of learning. Without religion I believe learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind . . .
Dr. Benjamin Rush, Letter to John Armstrong on March 19, 1783
Justice Stewart went on to point out the inconsistencies of the nation’s religious observances. “At the opening of each day’s Session of this Court we stand, while one of our officials invokes the protection of God. Since the days of John Marshall our Crier has said, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’ Both the Senate and the House of Representatives open their daily Sessions with prayer. Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy [then in office], has upon assuming his Office asked the protection and help of God. . . .
“In 1954 Congress added a phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag so that it now contains the words ‘one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ In 1952 Congress enacted legislation calling upon the President each year to proclaim a National Day of Prayer. Since 1865 the words ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ have been impressed on our coins.”
Stewart wrote that he could list countless other examples but that his position could be summed by the fact that, “It was . . . this Court just ten years ago in a single sentence: ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being’” [see Zorach v. Clauson].
“I do not believe that this Court,” Stewart concluded, “or the Congress, or the President has by the actions and practices I have mentioned established an ‘official religion’ in violation of the Constitution. And I do not believe the State of New York has done so in this case.”
Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974)
Warren was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1953 by President Dwight Eisenhower. Warren, although a Republican, was philosophically a centrist to liberal in his judicial renderings. He served on the Court until 1969.
A year later, on the same day, the same Court (with Arthur J. Goldberg, a Democrat replacing Frankfurter) decided two other contentious cases that were argued before the Court at the same time concerning school prayer— Murray v. Curlett and Abington Township School District v. Schempp.
In the Murray v. Curlett case, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a radical militant atheist, who was despised and hated by many Christians and fellow atheists, brought suit against the Baltimore, Maryland school board. Like the previous complaint in New York, O’Hair sued because she claimed that her son William’s school violated the First Amendment by having students recite the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). She also came against the school board’s approval of the daily reading from the Bible.
Section 1 [of 5]. . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Passed by Congress on June 13, 1866
Before reaching the Supreme Court, a local Maryland judge, J. Gilbert Pendergast, dismissed O’Hair’s petition, saying, “It is abundantly clear that petitioners’ real objective is to drive every concept of religion out of the public school system.” The Maryland Court of Appeals had a similar viewpoint and concluded that, “Neither the First nor the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to stifle all rapport between religion and government.”
In the Abington Township School District [of Pennsylvania] v. Schempp the complaint was similar—that the voluntary student participation in morning prayer and listening to a teacher recitation of ten verses of the Bible was unconstitutional.
In its majority 8-1 decision in both cases, with Justice Stewart once again being the lone dissenter, the Court once again cited its position as in Engel v. Vitale but with many more pages of nebulous Founder legal positions and case law. The bottom line was that, again Thomas Jefferson’s non-binding, non-Constitutional statement on the “wall of separation between church and state” was held up as the justification for their affirmative decision for the plaintiffs. When attorney for the petitioners, Leonard Kerpelman, used Jefferson’s statement in his presentation and implied it was in the Constitution, Justice Stewart quickly interrupted and asked him where it occurred. A silence fell over the Court as Kerpelman was stumped for an answer.
In writing his dissent, Justice Stewart stated, in part:
I think the records in the two cases before us are so fundamentally deficient as to make impossible an informed or responsible determination of the constitutional issues presented. Specifically, I cannot agree that on these records we can say that the Establishment Clause has necessarily been violated. But I think there exist serious questions under both that provision and the Free Exercise Clause – insofar as each is imbedded in the Fourteenth Amendment – which require the remand of these cases for the taking of additional evidence.
The First Amendment declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” It is, I think, a fallacious oversimplification to regard these two provisions as establishing a single constitutional standard of “separation of church and state,” which can be mechanically applied in every case to delineate the required boundaries between government and religion. We err in the first place if we do not recognize, as a matter of history and as a matter of the imperatives of our free society, that religion and government must necessarily interact in countless ways. Secondly, the fact is that while in many contexts the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause fully complement each other, there are areas in which a doctrinaire reading of the Establishment Clause leads to irreconcilable conflict with the Free Exercise Clause.
Religion is the only solid basis of good morals: therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.
Gouverneur Morris, Signer, U.S. Constitution
Interestingly and sadly, not one Christian group, church or organization chose to file a brief in either case on behalf of prayer or Bible reading in the public schools. However, it is important to note that these joint decisions by the Supreme Court, DID NOT, as widely believed, remove prayer or Bible reading from the public schools. The Court only concluded that “government-sponsored” prayer and Bible reading were a violation of the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment. Students in public schools are still free to pray or read the Bible on their own or to conduct or participate in prayer or Bible study groups.
In essence, what the Warren Supreme Court decided to do was to deliberately misinterpret and re-write the First Amendment. They changed the intent of the “Establishment Clause” of the Founders and replaced it with at statement out-of-context made by Jefferson in a letter. North Carolina’s senator at the time, Sam Ervin (1896-1985), quipped, “I should like to ask whether we would be far wrong in saying that in this decision the Supreme Court has held that God is unconstitutional and for that reason the public school must be segregated against Him?”
Perhaps ironically, O’Hair’s son, William J. Murray, became a Christian and a Baptist minister and is chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition and author of My Life Without God.