1914. The "Gary Plan" was inaugurated in Gary,
Indiana, allowing students, with the consent of parents, to be released from the public
schools for specified periods of time to attend places of worship.
1928. Arkansas passed a law prohibiting the teaching of the
Darwinian theory of evolution in public schools.
1940. The Gary Plan was implemented in Champaign, Illinois, with
the change that the religious classes were held in the school buildings themselves. Mrs.
Vashti McCollum, whose son was a nonparticipant in the religious instruction, challenged
the plan in court.
1948. In McCollum v. Board of Education, the Supreme
Court upheld the constitutionality of a New York statute allowing children to be released
from school for religious instruction.
1952. In Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court upheld the
constitutionality of a ew York statute allowing children to be released from school for
1962. The Supreme Court ruled, in the Engel v. Vitale
case, that a prayer written by the New York Board of Regents for recitation in the public
schools was unconstitutional, even though it was nondenominational.
1962. A month after the Engel decision the Senate held hearings
for two days. Three constitutional amendments to allow prayer were proposed.
1963. (June 17) The Supreme Court, in a ruling that combined two
cases--Abington Township School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett--determined
that prayers written for public school use by the States were unconstitutional, and that
the required recitation of the Lords Prayer or daily Bible readings violated the
1963. Francis Cardinal Spellman proposes a constitutional
amendment to correct the Supreme Courts "misreading of the no-establishment
1963. In Alabama, Governor Wallace said his state would defy the
1963. In mid-July Rep. Frank Becker of New York had introduced a
resolution to amend the Constitution and within a day he had 22 signatures on a discharge
petition. By September he had 60 signatures toward the needed 218 signatures to bring
House Joint Resolution 9 out of committee, an amendment to the constitution which he had
1964. Rep. Emmanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee announces hearings on Bible Reading and prayer in public schools. During
the 18 days of the hearings, three volumes of 2,774 pages was generated.
Beckers amendment was never brought to the floor by Celler, though, according to a
count by Dean Kelley of the National Council of Churches, who ran a major campaign to
enlist religious leaders against the Becker proposal, Becker had enough votes to pass it.
Robert S. Alley claims that by the end of the hearings Beckers majority had
1964. Georgia Governor Carl Sanders and the mayor of Atlanta
joined several Atlanta Protestant ministers to proclaim "Return the Bible to our
1966. In March, Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen introduced a
constitutional amendment for school prayer. On August 1 Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana
convened his subcommittee on constitutional amendments to begin six days of hearings
on Dirksens Senate JR 148. Few committee members show up. Bayh, who made it plain he
was in favor of the defeat of the Dirksen amendment, sponsored a sense-of-the-Senate
resolution which gave Senators a chance for a "pro-God" vote. His tactics helped
defeat the Dirksen amendment which would have prevailed otherwise.
1968. In Epperson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court
unanimously held unconstitutional the Arkansas law that prohibited teaching the Darwinian
theory of evolution in public schools.
1970. The U.S. Senate, before approving legislation to provide
for an Equal Rights Amendment
(ERA) to the Constitution, added language allowing for nondenominational prayer in public
buildings. No further action was taken on the ERA in that Congress.
1971. Pressure for yet another try at an amendment to the Bill
of Rights allowing school prayer led to the requisite number os signatures on a discharge
petition to further consider House JR 191 by the Committee on the Judiciary.
1978. A law passed in Kentucky required that the Ten
Commandments be posted in every public school classroom, using funds provided by private
contributions. In Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court ruled the practice
unconstitutional, overturning lower court decisions.
1979. Sen. Jesse Helms introduced a legislative rider that would
have forbidden the Supreme Court to review any case concerning voluntary prayer in the
1980. Hearings were held on Helms proposal, S. 450,
in July, August and September. The hearings, which included testimony from Moral
Majority and the religious right, concluded two months before the presidential election.
The result of the House consideration was defeat for the Helms amendment in spite of
passage by the Senate in 1979.
1981. In Widmar v. Vincent, the Supreme Court sanctioned
the concept of a "limited public forum" when university facilities may be made
available to student groups, including religious groups, for extracurricular meetings.
1982. True to a promise President Reagan had made with the
religious right during his presidential campaign, submitted a proposed constitutional
prayer amendment, SJ Res 199 to the Senate on May 17. Sen. Strom Thurmond was the new
chairman of the Judiciary Committee and he was fully in agreement with the amendment. No
legislative action was taken after the hearings.
1983. Sen. Thurmond reintroduced SJ Res 199 under the new label
SJ Res 73. The full Judiciary Committee held a day of hearings.
1984. Congress enacted the Equal Access Act, providing that
public secondary schools that receive Federal funds and permit noncurriculum-related
groups to meet on school premises during noninstructional time may not deny similar access
to religious groups.
1985. In Wallace v. Jaffree, the Court declared an
Alabama law providing for a minute of silence for meditation or voluntary prayer to be
unconstitutional because it represented an endorsement by the State of prayer activity.
1985. The Republican effort to guide President Reagans
prayer amendment through Congress continued with the advocacy of SJ Res 2 which called for
"silent prayer or reflection." Wallace v. Jaffree was decided 15 days
before hearings began. The amendment was defeated. With the change to a Democratic
majority in the Senate in 1987 the leadership of the Judiciary Committee passed to Sen.
Joseph Biden of Delaware who found no reason to continue the hearing marathon of the past
1992. In Lee v. Weisman the Court ruled that a graduation
prayer by a clergyman invited by school officials to take part in the ceremony, was
unconstitutional. Student-initiated prayers at graduation appear to be constitutional.
1994. As part of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, Congress
barred State and local education agencies from using funds under the Act to adopt policies
that would "prevent voluntary prayer and meditation in public schools." Congress
also enacted, as an amendment to the Improving Americas Schools Act, a provision
cutting off general education funds to any State or local education agency that refused to
abide by a court decision holding it in violation of the constitutional right of a student
with re--- to prayer in the public schools.
1995. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich promises that the
Congress will vote on a school prayer amendment before July 4, 1995.