Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (p. A11) contained a fascinating op-ed by Houses of Worship columnist Stephen D. Solomon who reminded readers that the 50th anniversary of Abington School District v. Schempp is upon us. He said that in this 1963 Supreme Court case, “the justices ruled that public schools [had] violated…the First Amendment when they sponsored prayer and Bible readings…[indicating that]…the activities were religious exercises, violating the “strict neutrality” that the government must show on religion.” Solomon noted that “the court’s ruling effectively prohibited public schools and their personnel from sponsoring or promoting religious activities…[but]…also emphasized that America is a nation of great religious variety.” Reflecting on the ruling and the opinion rendered by then-Justice Clark, Solomon opined “…the court provided the foundation for including religion in the curriculum in public schools [and] pointed out that objective study about religion was permitted” adding that it “is critically important in helping understand art, music, history and much else in the world…Some [schools] teach world religion courses…to provide students with religious literacy to help them understand and respect many different faiths.” Solomon is thoughtful about schools’ responsibilities though, like whether “a world religions course [is] presented in an objective way or does the teacher tilt the scale toward a particular belief?” but ends with a clear summative opinion: “Large legal principles require wise judges and school administrators to apply them to such potentially contentious matters. But Schempp…points the way – already being followed around the country – to provide objective teaching about religion…without imposing beliefs on schoolchildren.”
Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.