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McCollum v. Board of Education, School District 71

333 U.S. 203 (1948)

Facts of the Case:

In 1940, local Jewish, Roman Catholic, and some Protestant groups formed the Champaign (IL) Council on Religious Education. The group, with cooperation of the Champaign Board of Education, offered voluntary classes in religion to public school students. The classes were held during the school day and those children not participating were forced to go elsewhere in the school to pursue secular studies. In order to participate, a student needed to have a permission slip signed by his parents.


By a 6-1 vote the Supreme Court disallowed the practice of allowing religious education to take place in public school classrooms during the school day.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Black)

The Court must support the impenetrable wall between church and state. By using tax-established and tax-supported public schools to teach religion to students, the government aids these groups in the spreading of their faiths. Refusing to “aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideas does not...manifest a governmental hostility to religion or religious teaching.” It is not relevant that students are not forced to participate in the classes or that parental permission is required. The important point is that the religions receive a benefit by being offered the venue through which to spread their message.


In this case the Court affirmed that refusing to assist religion should not be construed as hostility to religion. Any act by the government to assist religion broaches the wall that must separate Church and State.


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