Sunday, December 8, 2013

School District of Abington Township v. Schempp case brief

School District of Abington Township v. Schempp case brief summary
374 U.S. 203 (1963)

Defendant school district sought certiorari from a decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to challenge a decision from the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding the constitutionality of the mandatory practice of reading from the bible in public school before classes.

Under Pennsylvania law, public schools were required to read from the bible at the opening of each school day. The school district sought to enjoin enforcement of the statute. The district court ruled that the statute violated the First Amendment, even after the statute had been amended to permit a student to excuse himself.

  • On review, the Court held that such opening exercises were religious ceremonies. 
  • Given that finding, the exercises and the law requiring them were in violation of the Establishment Clause. 
  • Maryland petitioners were atheists who challenged a city rule that provided for opening exercises in the public schools that consisted primarily of reading a chapter from the bible and the Lord's Prayer. 
  • The state's highest court held the exercise did not violate the First Amendment. 
  • The religious character of the exercise was admitted by the state. 
  • The Court concluded that, in both cases, the laws required religious exercises and such exercises were being conducted in direct violation of the First Amendment.

The Court affirmed the Pennsylvania decision and reversed and remanded the Maryland decision because the mandatory reading from the bible before school each day was found to be unconstitutional.

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