Timeline of Religion in Public Schools

Events

First Amendment Drafted

1789

The United States Congress agrees to the precise language of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

Bill of Rights Ratified

1791

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”

Blaine Amendment

1875

Forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have any religious affiliation.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

1943

Required participation in the flag salute is unconstitutional.

Significant court victory won by Jehovah's Witnesses where the court held it was unconstitutional for public schools to compel students to salute the flag.

Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township (Establishment Clause)

1947

NJ used tax money for transportation to private schools. State provided reimbursement to parents of students who attend either private or public schools and used public transportation. Court ruled in favor of NJ saying it had nothing to do with religion. However, the court did agree that there needed to be a distinct separation between the two.

McColum v. Board of Education

1948

Illinois allowed religious people to come in during the day and teach. Court says this violates the Establishment Clause.

Zorach v. Clauson

1952

Released time for religious instruction off school premises is constitutional.

Engel v. Vitale

1962

A school sponsored nondenominational voluntary prayer violates the establishment clause. Making someone say something is considered "coercion".

Abington Township School District v. Schempp

1963

School sponsored Bible reading is not permissible.

Epperson v. Arkansas

1968

State passed a law banning the teaching of evolution. Courts held that states cannot require curriculum to be aligned with the views of any religion.

Lemon v. Kurtzman

1971

A law or policy must:
• have a secular purpose
• have an effect of neither advancing nor inhibiting religion
• must not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion

Wisconsin v. Yoder

1972

Amish say it is part of their religion that students shouldn't have to attend school after 8th grade. Court ruled that requiring attendance past 8th grade interfered with the rights of Amish parents to direct the religious upbringing of their children.

Stone v. Graham

December 1980

Kentucky passed law putting the Ten Commandments in all schools. District said that is was a historical document. Court ruled that posting the Commandments in each classroom is unconstitutional because it lacks a secular legislative purpose.

Wallace v. Jaffree

1985

Schools cannot use a moment of silence to promote school prayer. A “neutral” moment of silence is okay.

Edwards v. Aguillard

1987

Louisiana passed a law stating that Creationism must be taught if Evolution was also taught. Court ruled that it was unconstitutional because it attempts to advance a particular religion.

Westside Community Schools v. Mergens

1990

Westside Community School refused a group of students from forming a Bible Club. Courts ruled that school districts cannot prohibit Bible Study groups from meeting.

Lee v. Weisman

1992

At a 1989 graduation a Principal invited a Rabbi to speak and provide the benediction. Court ruled this is unconstitutional because you are forcing people to hear from a specific religious group.

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

2000

School district had a policy that allowed student led or student initiated prayer at football games. Court ruled that this violated the Establishment Clause.

Selman v. Simmons-Harris

2002

Cleveland, OH schools implemented a plan for students to receive after school help, go to magnet school, or given a voucher. It was found that 97% used the vouchers to go to religious schools. Court ruled that the Ohio program did not violate the Establishment Clause.