A question came up when America separated church and state by means of the First Amendment, who or what would supply this civic ideology of a culture. Most Americans thought that public schools were the answer. They thought that schools would help instill in children the ideas of Americanism. By either teaching of religious ideas or by means of prayers, they tried to openly introduce religious presence in public schools. Some believed that by only having religion present in public schools they can fulfill the role of ingraining civic virtue in young Americans. Consequently, the Supreme Court had to balance the desire for religion in public schools against the limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause. I would like to now go over a few of the cases and their outcomes.
McCollum v Board of Education in 1948 presented the question of the constitutionality of “released time” as a method of teaching religion in public schools. Members of the Jewish, Roman Catholic, and some Protestant faiths formed a voluntary association called the Champaign (Illinois) Council on Religious Education. Cooperating with the Champaign Board of Education, the Council offered voluntary classes in religious instruction to public school pupils. The courses were conducted in the regular classrooms of the school building. Students that participated in the religious classes needed parental permission to attend those classes. Students who did not attend the religious instruction were required to go to some other place in the building to pursue secular studies.
Mrs. McCollum, who was an atheist, thought the program violated the Establishment Clause. The Court agreed because the classes used a tax-supported building for religious instruction and the close cooperation between the school authorities and the religious council violated the Establishment clause. Because pupils were required to attend school and were released in part from this legal duty if they attended the religious classes, the Court found that the Champaign system was "beyond question a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups and to spread the faith."
McCollum however, did not lie to rest the issue of released time. In 1952 a case very similar case came along, Zorach v Clauson. The only difference was that the classes were conducted at locations away from the public school, not within the school building. For most, that made a big difference. All the schools had done was re-adjust their schedules to accommodate to the ones who wanted to attend religious classes. Justice Douglas agreed the First Amendment commands that church and state be separate, but said that does not mean that the state should be the adversary of religion. The Amendment doesn’t say the separation should be absolute. As a result of this case, a community may provide religious instructions for public school students, during the school day on a released time basis, as long as it is not done in a public school building.
In the early 1960s, Roy Torcaso was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to the position of Notary Public. When the time came for him to actually assume his duties, he was denied his commission and had his appointment rescinded because he refused to declare his belief in God. Torcaso filed suit in state court because he felt the test unfairly penalized him for not believing in God.
The Court found in favor of Torcaso. Justice Hugo Black recalled the words that he had written in Everson v Board of Education, that under the Establishment Clause neither state nor the federal government can force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Maryland was doing just that to those who would hold public office in the state. The state tried to argue stating that no one was compelled to hold public office, so the requirements of belief in God was narrow in scope. The…