An 1890 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling served as a precursor for the U.S. Supreme Court decision banning school prayer more than seven decades later.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 in the New York case of Engel v. Vitale banned public schools from initiating prayer in the classroom while concluding the Constitution bans the government from sponsoring such religious activities, according to the High Court’s website.
Precedents Justice William Brennan cited in issuing the decision included Wisconsin’s "Edgerton Bible case," the Christian History Institute said.
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The Edgerton case involved complaints by Catholic parents that teachers in the schools of Edgerton required daily readings of the Protestant King James Bible instead of the Douay version adhered to by the Catholic Church, CHI said. The Catholic families tried unsuccessfully to convince the school district to end the practice, then sued the district while contending its use of the King James Bible conflicted with the Wisconsin Constitution’s ban on sectarian instruction.
An appeals court decided the readings were not sectarian because both the King James and Douay versions were translations of the same work, CHI said. But the Catholic parents appealed the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled in 1890 that reading the King James Bible in class did amount to sectarian instruction – which consequently illegally united functions of church and state.
According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation,
the court’s strongly worded ruling included a statement that: "There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed."
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