Appendix #1

CHRONOLOGY OF THE SCHOOL PRAYER DEBATE

In the following chronology the word hearings has been boldened for emphasis, to show where the formal public input points have been in the saga of school prayer. Of all the Court rulings of this century none has sparked more action in Congress than Engel v. Vitale (1962). The testimony on the subject probably fills more volumes of committee hearing publications than any other constitutional issue.

 

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 religious instruction.

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 Lord’s Prayer or daily Bible readings violated the establishment clause.

1963. Francis Cardinal Spellman proposes a constitutional amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s "misreading of the no-establishment clause."

1963. In Alabama, Governor Wallace said his state would defy the Court’s stand.

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 sponsored.

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. Becker’s 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 Becker’s majority had vanished.

1964. Georgia Governor Carl Sanders and the mayor of Atlanta joined several Atlanta Protestant ministers to proclaim "Return the Bible to our Schools Day."

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 Dirksen’s 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 public schools.

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 Reagan’s 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 five years.

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 America’s 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.

 

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