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SCHEMPP v. SCHOOL DIST. OF ABINGTON TWP.

February 1, 1962

Edward L. SCHEMPP et al.
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, PA., et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BIGGS

For a full understanding of the problems presented by this case it will be necessary to read our earlier opinions at D.C.1959, 177 F.Supp. 398; D.C.1959, 184 F.Supp. 381; and D.C.1961, 195 F.Supp. 518. To recapitulate events briefly we state that the suit at bar was brought on February 14, 1958, by Edward and Sidney Schempp as parents and natural guardians of the minor plaintiffs, Ellory, Roger and Donna, all residents of Abington Township, Pennsylvania, against the School District of Abington Township, against the Principal of the Abington Senior High School and the Principal of the Huntingdon Junior High School, in Abington Township. The purpose of the suit was to have this court declare unconstitutional Section 1516 of the Pennsylvania Public School Act of March 10, 1949, as it then existed. 24 P.S. § 15-1516. Section 1516 provided for the compulsory reading of ten verses of the 'Holy Bible' at the opening of each public school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on each school day by teachers or by students and prescribed a specific penalty to be imposed on a teacher in case of failure to obey the mandate of the statute.

 On January 4, 1961, the plaintiffs moved for leave to file a supplemental pleading under Rule 15(d), Fed.R.Civ.Proc., 28 U.S.C. The supplemental pleading, really a supplemental complaint, provides only for the substitution in the original complaint of the new citation and text of the amended statute in place of the citation and text of the statute as it was prior to amendment and the elimination of all the paragraphs in the complaint relating to Ellory Schempp, he having graduated from the Abington Senior High School. The amendments have been allowed and the supplemental pleading has been filed. For a more detailed description of what took place see D.C.1959, 184 F.Supp. 381, and D.C.1961, 195 F.Supp. 518. The Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been permitted to intervene as a party defendant.

 Hearing has been had on the amended pleadings. Evidence has been taken. The case has been fully briefed and argued. It is now ripe for decision.

 It is unnecessary to review the evidence taken at the former hearings or to repeat here the findings of fact set out in our first opinion, reported at D.C.1959, 177 F.Supp. 398 et seq. The present Bible reading statute permits a student to be excused from attending Bible reading upon the written request of his parent or guardian. The statute itself contains no specific penalty to be imposed upon the teacher who fails to observe its mandate as was the case prior to the 1959 amendment. The teacher, however, who refuses or fails to obey the mandate of the amended statute may have his contract of employment terminated pursuant to 24 P.S. § 11-1122 (Supp.1960). This is a provision of the Pennsylvania Public School Act which speaks strongly for itself and is set out in the margin. *fn1"

 The procedure followed in the Abington Senior High School, following the amendment of Section 1516, did differ somewhat from that which was in effect prior to the amendment. We describe it briefly. The children attending the High School, Roger and Donna included, reported to their 'homerooms' at 8:15 A.M. and a few minutes thereafter the Bible reading began with each pupil seated 'at attention'. The Bible reading consists of reading, without comment, over a loud speaker ten verses of the King James Version of the Bible. Then the children stood and repeated, with the public address system leading them, the Lord's Prayer. Next, still standing, the children gave the Flag Salute. They then sat down. Announcements were made and when the announcements were completed the students went to their classrooms for the first classes of the day.

 Edward Schempp, the children's father, testified that after careful consideration he had decided that he should not have Roger or Donna excused from attendance at these morning ceremonies. Among his reasons were the following. He said that the thought his children would be 'labeled as 'odd balls" before their teachers and classmates every school day; that children, like Roger's and Donna's classmates, were liable 'to lump all particular religious difference(s) or religious objections (together) as 'atheism" and that today the word 'atheism' is often connected with 'atheistic communism', and has 'very bad' connotations, such as 'un-American' or 'anti-Red', *fn2" with overtones of possible immorality. Mr. Schempp pointed out that due to the events of the morning exercises following in rapid succession, the Bible reading, the Lord's Prayer, the Flag Salute, and the announcements, excusing his children from the Bible reading would mean that probably they would miss hearing the announcements so important to children. He testified also that if Roger and Donna were excused from Bible reading they would have to stand in the hall outside their 'homeroom' and that this carried with it the imputation of punishment for bad conduct.

 The plaintiffs seek to enjoin the enforcement of Section 1516 as now amended and to have it and the practices carried on pursuant to it at the Abington Senior High School declared unconstitutional as an establishment of religion and as an interference with the free exercise of religion. The defendants maintain, among other things, that the plaintiffs have failed to prove that they have sustained any injury to a constitutionally protected right and that therefore they are without standing to maintain the suit at bar. The defendants insist that it follows that this court is without jurisdiction to determine whether the statute or the exercises conducted under it are constitutional. They contend also that the statute does not establish a religion and that it does not interfere with the free exercise of religion and vigorously assert that the doctrine of abstention requires this court to stay its hand.

 As to the preliminary questions of law we think we need not say much more than that which is set out under heading 'III' of our first opinion, 177 F.Supp. 402-403, except in two respects. The statute now sub judice provides, as has been said, that a child may be excused from attendance at the Bible reading on the written request of his parent or guardian. But since, as will appear hereinafter, we decide this controversy on the 'Establishment of Religion' clause of the First Amendment the exculpatory phrase cannot aid the defendants' argument that the doctrine of abstention is applicable for, as we will show, there is religious establishment in this case whether pupils are or are not excused from attendance at the morning exercises. It is also true, as the defendants point out, that Section 1516 as amended by the Act of 1959, has not been long in existence, but this cannot be considered to be a decisive factor. There is no suggestion or even hint that the important issues presented by this case will be litigated in the Pennsylvania Courts. We have no doubt that substantial federal questions are presented for adjudication by the present litigation. We therefore must proceed to decide this controversy on the merits.

 The attendance by the minor plaintiffs, Roger and Donna Schempp, at the Abington Senior High School is compulsory. See 24 P.S. § 13-1327 (Supp.1960). The reading of ten verses of the Holy Bible *fn3" under the present statute also is compelled by law. The reading of the verses, even without comment, possesses a devotional and religious character and constitutes in effect a religious observance. The devotional and religious nature of the morning exercises is made all the more apparent by the fact that the Bible reading is followed immediately by a recital in unison by the pupils of the Lord's Prayer. The fact that some pupils, or theoretically all pupils, might be excused from attendance at the exercises does not mitigate the obligatory nature of the ceremony for the 'new' Section 1516, as did the statute prior to its 1959 amendment, unequivocally requires the exercises to be held every school day in every school in the Commonwealth. The exercises are held in the school buildings and perforce are conducted by and under the authority of the local school authorities and during school sessions. Since the statute requires the reading of the 'Holy Bible', a Christian document, the practice, as we said in our first opinion, prefers the Christian religion. The record demonstrates that it was the intention of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to introduce a religious ceremony into the public schools of the Commonwealth.

 The case at bar is governed by McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 68 S. Ct. 461, 92 L. Ed. 649 (1948). Its essential facts and those of McCollum are quite similar. They need not be compared here. As was said by Mr. Justice Black in McCollum, at p. 212, 68 S. Ct. at page 465: 'The First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. * * * The First Amendment has erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.' In Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 315, 72 S. Ct. 679, 684, 96 L. Ed. 954 (1952), Mr. Justice Douglas stated, 'We follow the McCollum case.', and this was reiterated in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 494, 81 S. Ct. 1680, 6 L. Ed. 2d 982 (1961). In Torcaso Mr. Justice Rutledge's dissenting opinion in Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1, 59, 67 S. Ct. 504, 532, 91 L. Ed. 711 (1947), was quoted with approval: 'We have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion. Remonstrance, Par. 8, 12.' The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has seen fit to breach the wall between church and state.

 We hold the statute as amended unconstitutional on the ground that it violates the 'Establishment of Religion' clause of the First Amendment made applicable to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by the Fourteenth Amendment. We find it unnecessary to pass upon any other contention made by the plaintiffs in respect to the unconstitutionality of the statute or of the practices thereunder.

 We reiterate the findings of fact made in our first opinion, handed down on September 16, 1959, as amended September 22, 1959, except those contained therein which are inconsistent with the findings specifically made in this opinion. In addition to the findings of fact in our prior opinion and in this opinion we make the following ...


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