Part One — Judicial Censorship
America. The name evokes mental images of rural prosperity, urban wealth, endless opportunity and liberty, heroic soldiers who sacrificed everything for our long-held, fundamental principles, warm hearths, and joyful family life. America has been a breeding ground for individual thought and expression. It has been the place where high school sweethearts could conquer every social strata and enjoy their golden years comforted by the fruits of their labors. Could it be possible that, in what many surmise to be a proliferation of liberty, we have laid to waste the very principles that birthed the same? Have we abandoned the Reason for our liberty in the pursuit of greater liberty? Have we opened the door to greedy tyrants who would use our ignorance to advance their own anti-God ideals?
You’re probably aware of the efforts of many prominent politicians, liberal lobbyists, and cultural icons who have taken legislative, judicial, and commercial measures to religiously neutralize all public forums, such as public schools and universities, capitol buildings and other government buildings, television, and even the marketplace. These measures have been glorified by the liberal media as “inclusive” efforts to promote diversity, individualism, personal liberty, and justice; however, I believe that their goal is something quite opposed to these things. Having researched many of these incidents, it seems clear to me that the real goal is something much bigger: the eradication of God from the public square.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following three things: first, that Christianity is being purposefully censored in all public forums; second, that this censorship is an integral component of the Socialist agenda; and, lastly, that there is a complete lack of Constitutional grounding for these measures. In this pursuit, we will consider three topics: the censorship, the motive, and the Constitution.
There have been many instances of the removal of public religious monuments and government-sanctioned religious practices in recent years, and the censorship of those who publicly display their faith in God and Christian convictions has naturally followed. In this series of posts, we will consider the censorship of religion and religious expression in three contexts: judicial, legislative, and commercial. Today, we will only discuss judicial censorship.
In 1947, the stage was set for the eradication of religious expression from the public schools. A New Jersey taxpayer brought suit against a taxpayer-funded New Jersey school district for a reimbursement program said school district provided. The program reimbursed parents of children attending public schools, as well as those of students attending private schools, that took the public transportation system to school. In Everson v. Board of Education, the plaintiff contended that the program violated his Constitutional protections under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it deprived him, in a way, of his monetary property. He also argued that the program stood in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because the program allowed for the reimbursement of parents that sent their children to private religious schools. Ninety-six percent of those private schools which benefitted from this program were parochial Catholic schools.
In their ruling on this case, the Supreme Court established a new precedent for the interpretation and application of the First Amendment. In terms of interpretation, both the assenting judges and the dissenting judges asserted that the First Amendment established a “wall of separation between church and state.” From that point forward, any association of any legal operation with religion would be seen as violating the Establishment Clause. In terms of application, Everson v. Board of Education represented the first time the limits set forth in the First Amendment were applied to an individual state. Previously, these limits had been interpreted as applying only to the Federal Government.
Such was the precedent that influenced one of the most famous examples of judicial censorship — Engel v. Vitale — which was a landmark constitutional case that removed prayer from the public schools. This was one of the first deliberate attempts to hamper public religious expression. The plaintiffs — families of public school students from New Hyde Park, New York — maintained that their religious beliefs were being contradicted in a prayer written by the state board of regents. The prayer was as follows:
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”
The plaintiffs’ argument was that the government-sanctioned recitation of this prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Having lost their case at the New York Court of Appeals, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, asserting that the statute mandating the recitation of this prayer was, indeed, in violation of the Establishment Clause. The decision of the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale inaugurated a series of litigation concerning the separation of church and state.
A year later, in Abington School District v. Schempp, the Court ruled that a Pennsylvania state statute mandating the reading of ten Bible verses, without comment, in public school classrooms was unconstitutional. Originally, the plaintiff, Edward Schempp, had filed suit against his children’s school district to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, complaining that his children were often subjected to reading the Bible, which contained doctrines contrary to their religious beliefs, to which he and his children testified. The district court struck down the Pennsylvania statute. The school district appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but, before the case could be decided, the statute was amended so as to allow a child to be excused from Bible reading upon their parents’ written request. Mr. Schempp was unsatisfied, and continued his suit. Upon this amendment, the Supreme Court had vacated the district court’s first decision and remanded the school district’s appeal to the district court. The district court again ruled in favor of Schempp, and the school district again appealed to the Supreme Court, which finally also ruled in favor of Schempp, strictly upholding the precedent of Engel v. Vitale.
The next blow to religious expression came in 1985, when the Supreme Court ruled that a state law authorizing moments of “meditation and voluntary prayer” in Alabama schools were unconstitutional. Ishmael Jaffree a father of three children who attended Mobile County, Alabama public schools, alleged that his youngest child was being made fun of for not praying. He initially brought suit against the school district to his district’s court, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He lost. He then appealed to the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the law unconstitutional. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, which, again, banned even voluntary prayer from the classroom.
It is interesting to note that another case was brought during this time by several plaintiffs asserting that the Mobile County School District’s textbooks promoted secular humanism, which they believed to be a religion, and contradicted their religious beliefs. The district court ruled against them.
Again, upholding the precedent of Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court ruled in Lee v. Weisman (1992) that clergy-led prayer at high school commencement ceremonies was unconstitutional.
The war against prayer in the classroom culminated in 2000 in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. In this case, the Court ruled that even student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games is unconstitutional.
As you can see, prayer, formerly a primary means of religious expression in the public schools, has now been completely eradicated from the public schools by judicial means. These are just a few examples of censorship in the judiciary branch. I encourage you to do further research and establish your own conclusions. In my next post, we will consider various means of legislative censorship of religious expression.
–Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Supreme Court case that ruled the recitation of prayers composed by state officials unconstitutional:
–Wallace v. Jafree (1985), the Supreme Court case that condemned the Alabama state statute authorizing the holding of a one-minute moment of silence or voluntary prayer as unconstitutional:
–Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court case that set a definition of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment that heavily influenced later Supreme Court decisions involving the separation of church and state, such as Engel v. Vitale:
–Smith v. Board of Education Commissioners of Mobile County (1997), the district court case in which the plaintiffs alleged that the schools were using textbooks that promoted the tenets of secular humanism, and lost:
–Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), the Supreme Court case that ruled Bible reading in public schools unconstitutional:
–Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court case that ruled clergy-led prayer at high-school commencement ceremonies unconstitutional:
–Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), the Supreme Court that ruled that a policy allowing student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games unconstitutional: