Edward L. Schempp, a long-time activist for church-state separation who played a key role in a crucial 1963 case striking down coercive religious activity in public schools, died Nov. 8 at age 95.
In the early 1960s, Schempp and his son Ellery challenged mandatory recitation of the Lord's Prayer and readings from the King James Version of the Bible in a suburban Philadelphia public school. Their case resulted in the 1963 landmark Supreme Court ruling Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which declared public school-sponsored religious activity unconstitutional.
A lifelong Unitarian Universalist, Schempp remained active in church-state causes and social justice issues all of this life. In 1993, Schempp and his wife Sidney received an Americans United Religious Liberty Award in recognition of their years of activism.
In an interview with Church & State in June of 1993 marking the 30th anniversary of the ruling that bears his name, Schempp recalled that he and Sidney discussed the merits of bringing litigation with Ellery and their two other children, Donna and Roger.
"It was a family decision," Schempp said. "We discussed it at mealtime and things like that. It wasn't a hard decision. It was a question of responsibility."
Schempp, who was a longtime member of Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union, is survived by his wife of 69 years, Sidney, and his three children, Ellery, Roger and Donna.
Reflecting on his father's passing, Ellery Schempp wrote, "The Supreme Court decision of 1963 serves as a lasting tribute to his fierce belief in freedom and his love to twit the fundamentalists. As a personal note, I also mention his love for science and for beauty in music and nature. Dad inspired in us wonderment in the natural world and introduced us to the splendors of our National Parks, of our gardens, of the world around us. My adventures and love for music and other beauties started with his inspiration. We mourn his passing but remember the light that he shined."