This Day in the Law
June 17

Abington Township School District v. Schempp Decided (1963)

On June 17, 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Abington Township School District v. Schempp in favor of Schempp, thus declaring school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools unconstitutional.

The Abington case began when Edward Schempp filed suit against the Abington School District of Pennsylvania. His aim was to prohibit the enforcement of a Pennsylvania state law that required students to hear and read portions of the Bible as part of their public school education. The law required that at least ten verses from the Holy Bible be read at the opening of each school day. Schempp did not want his children hearing or reading from the Bible in public school, and felt that the law was unconstitutional. He specifically contended that the statute violated his and his family's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

At the time, four other states also had laws compelling school districts to perform Bible readings in the mornings before class. Twenty-five states had laws allowing optional Bible reading, and the remainder had no laws supporting or rejecting Bible reading. In eleven of those states with laws supportive of Bible reading or state-sponsored prayer, the state courts had declared them unconstitutional.

The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania ruled in Schempp's favor, and struck down the Pennsylvania statute. The school district subsequently appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. The Court found for Schempp on June 17, 1963 by a ruling of 8-1, declaring the Pennsylvania law unconstitutional. The Court cited separation of church and state, and the right to religious freedom. The ruling in Abington still stands today.