It took many court cases over a period of many decades to change the meaning of the First Amendment. We will examine 3 pivotal cases previously mentioned.

Engel v. Vitale
"The Regents School Prayer" - 1962

 Engel v. Vitale
Hyde Park families rejoicing after Engel v, Vitale verdict
The New York school system had adopted a prayer to be said before the start of each day's classes. This prayer was to help promote good moral character of the students, spiritual training and help combat juvenile delinquency. The regents wrote a prayer for the schools which had to be non-sectarian or denominational. It was so bland that it became known to some religious leaders as the "to whom it may concern prayer." Here is the Regents prayer.

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

Justice Hugo Black wrote the following for the majority, "It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers. . . the Regent's prayer are inconsistent both with the purposes of the Establishment Clause and the Establishment Clause itself."
With standard
jurisprudence the Court cites previous cases in making its rulings; however, not one previous case was cited in this ruling.  Why was no other case cited?  Because, there were none which would support its decision.  For 170 years following the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, no Court had ever struck down any prayer, in any form, in any location.  While the Court invoked no judicial precedent to sustain its decision, it did employ some strategic psychological rhetoric. Recall the Court’s comment that:
. . . these principles were so universally recognized . .

These principles were not recognized by most Americans, and this decision caused an uproar, and Congressional hearings!  Even though the Founding fathers plainly stated that religion and morality were to be part of our society and government, the Court was not particularly interested in the Founders’ views on this subject; in fact, it openly acknowledged its contempt for America’s heritage when it remarked: 1 [T]hat [New York] prayer seems relatively insignificant when compared to the governmental encroachments upon religion which were commonplace 200 years ago.  

The Warren Court decided to ignore the Founding Fathers intent and the Constitution and substitute the "Separation of Church and State" for the First Amendment.
Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina said, "I should like to ask whether we would be far wrong in saying that in this decision the Supreme Court has held that God is unconstitutional and for that reason the public school must be segregated against Him?"

John Bennett, dean of Union Theological Seminary wrote the following: "If the Court in the name of religious liberty tries to keep a lid on religious expression and teaching both in the public schools and also in connection with experiments that involve cooperation with public schools, it will drive all religious communities to the establishment of parochial schools, much against the will of many, and to the great detriment of public schools and probably of the quality of education." At the time there were just a handful of Protestant Schools in the country, today they number in the thousands.


Murray v. Curlett
"School Prayer" - 1963

  Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Madalyn Murray O'Hair

How the Communist
got Prayer removed
from Public Schools

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a militant left wing atheist with close ties to the American Communist Party, took the school board of Baltimore to court for allowing prayer in school. The local court judge J. Gilbert Pendergast dismissed the petition stating, "It is abundantly clear that petitioners' real objective is to drive every concept of religion out of the public school system." The case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the court ruled, "neither the First nor the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to stifle all rapport between religion and government."  

The case was then heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Leonard Kerpelman addressed the court saying prayer in the public schools had been tolerated for so long that it had become traditional and that anything that is unconstitutional does not become constitutional through tradition. He went on to say the Constitution had erected a "wall of separation" between church and state, at which point Justice Potter Steward interrupted, asking where this wording appears. Kerpelman was stumped and an embarrassing silence followed. When he regained his composure, he stated that the text was not explicit on the point but that it had been interpreted to mean so. 2

Incredibly, the National Council of Churches and several Jewish organizations actually favored Madalyn O'Hair case! Not a single Christian organization filed a brief in support of school prayer, so the case went virtually uncontested before the Court. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of abolishing school prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Justice Tom Clark wrote, "religious freedom, it has long been recognized that government must be neutral and, while protecting all, must prefer none and disparage none." Atheism has been recognized by the federal government as a religion, and this Supreme Court ruling preferred Secular Atheism, and therefore failed to be neutral as Justice Tom Clark suggested.  
A foot note on this case:  This case was centered around Madalyn Murray O'Hair's son, William Murray.  Madalyn O'Hair was murdered in the 1990's, and her son William Murray became a Christian and is now a pastor.  He now is an advocate for school prayer, and has written an excellent book on the subject, titled: Let Us Pray, A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools.  In this book you will find a detailed account of this case.  

Read and except from his book on how the Communist removed School Prayer.

Abington Township School District v. Schempp
"Bible reading in school" - 1963

  Separation of Church and State

[Separation of Church & State]

 Court Ruling on School Prayer

[Courts Rulings on School Prayer]
The Pennsylvania school system complied with a state law requiring that ten verses of scripture be read every day. The readings were without interpretation, comment or questions asked, and any student could request to be excused. It was voluntary without coercion, and the Schempp girl never asked to be excused and even volunteered to read the Bible on occasions. (This point was not brought up when the case was before the Supreme Court.)  Yet the parents brought the case to court on grounds that it was coercion.   This case came to the Supreme Court at the same time as the Murray v. Curlett case, and the court ruled on them together. After these last 2 cases were decided, the courts ruling stated that Prayer and / or Bible reading was a violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment.  In so ruling the court established a secular religion for our school system, thus violating the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment.
And thus the First Amendment has been completely revised with regard to religious freedom, putting the restrictions on the people and not the government.

1.  Original Intent, The Courts, the Constitution,and Religion - by David Barton
2.  Let Us Pray, A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools - by William J. Murray

Last Update Jan. 2009