McCollum v. Board of Education

March 8, 1948
by J. Douglas Johnson

On February 10, 1947, in the landmark case, Everson v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New Jersey law that allowed students to ride public school buses to their parochial schools. It was the first time the Court asserted that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment applied not just to the federal government, as the First Amendment states, but also, somehow, to individual states.

Since nearly all of the New Jersey parochial schools in question were Catholic, the decision was popular with many conservative Protestants at the time who feared Rome’s reach onto American soil.

Meanwhile, Vashti McCollum, an atheist, had sued the school board of Champaign, Illinois, to prevent Protestant (and also Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, et al.) students from participating in a voluntary religious education program held on public school property. The Champaign County Circuit Court and the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in the school district’s favor against McCollum, who then appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court rulings on the same Establishment grounds they had created a year earlier in Everson.

As I asked on these pages some years ago (Braking Badly, July/August 2021): “What is the government’s role with respect to religious freedom under the First Amendment? The quick answer, and pretty much the only answer for many Americans, is that the government’s role is to ‘remain neutral’ on matters of faith  . . . but there is nothing neutral about a system dedicated to silencing the proclamation of truth. . . .”

McCollum did not only end religious education in our nation’s public schools; it also established, by default, atheism as the lone, government—protected religion (or anti-religion) in the United States.

J. Douglas Johnson is Executive Editor of Touchstone.

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