By Dr. Rick Chromey
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee,
and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents,
our teachers, and our Country. Amen.”
This is the prayer school children once prayed to begin their day.
That is, until June 15, 1962 – when school prayer was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case centered upon a non-sectarian prayer that New York employed since 1955. Then one father got upset…not by the prayer itself but rather its head lowered and hands clasped posture.(1) “[It’s] not the way we say prayers,” he said.(2)
So, he sued New York state.
At the time, ninety-seven percent of Americans believed in God and had no issues with school prayer. It’s why this SCOTUS ruling radically forged a new secular standard and precedent of legal protections for religious minorities – allowing the offended to overrule the religious majority by invoking the “establishment clause” (that Congress cannot make a law “establishing” a religion). Never mind that in this New York case, as well as hundreds of court cases since this 1962 ruling, Congress had made no law at all.
A year later the Supreme Court further ruled against Bible reading in school, citing the 1962 case as precedent.(3) U.S. public schools could no longer read biblical texts nor invoke prayer to begin the learning day. Religion was systematically segregated from public education.
Dissenting Justice Potter Stewart penned: “With all respect, I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.”(4)
Unfortunately, these two court rulings didn’t satisfy the secularists. In the coming decades they’d launch new legal grievances against crosses, Ten Commandments, Nativity scenes, sports and graduation prayers, and other religious expressions in the public arena.
This single 1962 court decision, with no precedent, radically put America on a secular path. Our spiritual – Judeo-Christian – values were slowly scrubbed, erased and removed.
Today, the secularists argue America is (and always was) a plural, multi-religious culture. It’s wrong to give Christianity precedence. However, that’s not what our Founding Fathers felt. They recognized America’s freedom demanded a moral, religious and Christian people. Founding educator and historian Jedidiah Morse preached in 1799: “The foundations which support the interests of Christianity, are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own. In all those countries where there is little or no religion, or a very gross and corrupt one, as in Mahometan (Muslim) and Pagan countries, there you will find, with scarcely a single exception, arbitrary and tyrannical governments, gross ignorance and wickedness.”(5)
Morse concluded that without the “kindly influence of Christianity” there would be no “civil freedom…political and social happiness.”
Founding educator Benjamin Rush opined, “The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life…the Bible…should be read in our schools in preference to all other books because it contains the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public happiness.”(6)
University president and school text author William McGuffrey stated “The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God…on its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions.”(7)
Founder Noah Webster wrote “The Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”(8)
Maybe that’s why American schools taught the four “R’s” (religion, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) for hundreds of years. Without Christian practice and instruction, our political and educational leaders believed our “republican forms of government” would fail.
In reviewing the historical degradation of American values and morality, national disrespect and incivility, general cultural decay and widespread ignorance of our national Christian heritage, a direct line can be traced to this particular SCOTUS ruling in June 1962.
It was, after all, the first overt and unprecedented step to remake America into a non-religious people. That’s when we began to forget who we were and what we valued. Even more indirectly, it’s also when religion, specifically Christianity (our founding religion), was segregated in our national culture.
Since this anti-religious SCOTUS ruling in 1962, America has slowly descended into social disorder. Our homes, schools, and workplaces have become agnostic spaces. As Americans became more secular, we also grew more divisive, uncivil, litigious, undisciplined, violent, hedonistic, narcissistic and profane.
We became modern Romans not historic Americans.
Jeremiah prophesied about his people: “Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths.” (Jeremiah 1:15)
America is still a unique, blessed nation, but it’s not invincible. If it’s going to be destroyed, it will happen from within.
It’s why June 15, 1962 matters.
Dr. Rick Chromey is an author, historian and theologian who speaks and writes on matters of religion, culture, history, technology and leadership. He’s the founder and president of MANNA! Educational Services International (www.mannasolutions.org). Rick and his wife Linda live in Star, ID.
(1) 1962 Engel v. Vitale: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engel_v._Vital
(2) “School Prayer in the United States”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_prayer_in_the_United_States
(3) 1963 Abington School District v. Schempp: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abington_School_District_v._Schempp
(4) As quoted in “School Prayers: Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives,” 88th Congress, Second Session, June 3, 1964, Part One: p. 501.
(5) Jedidiah Morse, “A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America,” Delivered at Charlestown, April 25, 1799, The Day of the National Fast (MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1799), p. 11.
(6) Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1798), pp. 94, 100, “A Defence of the Use of the Bible as a School Book.”
(7) From the forward to the 1836 McGuffrey’s Reader, “Our Christian Heritage,” Letter from Plymouth Rock (Marlborough, NH, The Plymouth Rock Foundation), p. 5.
(8) Noah Webster, A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects (New York: Webster and Clark, 1843), p. 291, from his “Reply to a Letter of David McClure on the Subject of the Proper Course of Study” in the Girard College, Philadelphia. New Haven, October 25, 1836.