Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Abington v. Schempp, in which the practice of required Bible readings to begin the public school day was ruled unconstitutional. Then-16-year-old Ellery Schempp staged a protest of the requirement and refused to back down to school officials, ultimately filing suit over the dispute. Schempp and his family received threats but stayed with the case, ultimately a win for the religious liberty of all of us.
Writing in The Atlantic, Linda Wertheimer revisits Schempp and the school prayer issue and finds he has no regrets. She tells the great story of a recent event bringing him together with Jessica Ahlquist, the 16 year old student who filed suit over the Lord’s Prayer hanging at Cranston West High School in Rhode Island.
In April, Schempp and Ahlquist spoke to about 50 people at “50 Years: From Ellery to Jessica,” a talk sponsored by the Massachusetts Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Before their audience at the Boston Community Church, Ahlquist and Schempp shared their war stories. He spoke about the hate mail and bullying and harassment of his siblings. Ahlquist spoke about walking with police escorts at school because of threats.
But the teen also said she felt like her case was not difficult to win – because Schempp and others laid the groundwork.
For those interested in the story of the Abington case, I recommend Ellery’s Protest by Stephen Solomon. It’s a beautifully written account of landmark case and the courageous people who made it happen. We still need folks like that today to stand up for religious liberty!