December 2013 Church & State | Featured

A student who challenged official prayers at his public school’s graduation and a plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that ended mandatory Bible reading and prayer in public schools were recognized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State Nov. 11.

Ellery Schempp, whose successful challenge of a Pennsylvania law mandating daily readings from the Bible as well as the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was decided by the Supreme Court in Abington v. Schempp (1963), received Americans United’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kace Echo received Americans Uni­ted’s Youth Activist Award. As the 2012 valedictorian at Poteet High School in Texas, Echo found out that his school had a so-called “tradition” of beginning and ending its graduation ceremonies with prayers. He opposed the invocations and brought his complaint to Americans United. The school agreed to end the practice.

The awards ceremony took place during a two-day meeting of the Americans United Board of Trustees in Washington, D.C. Also during the event, AU chapter leaders and activists gathered to learn strategies to defend church-state separation.

Accepting the honor, Echo said: “Out of all the awards I’ve received, this is the one I’m most proud of.”

Schempp, a life-long advocate for church-state separation and a longtime member of Americans United, praised his parents and his younger siblings for supporting his case 50 years ago.

He also thanked Americans United.

“Americans United does amazing work, and I’ve been supporting you for 45 years,” Schempp said. “I am just one voice, but AU amplifies my voice.”

From Right: AU Youth Activist Awardee Kase Echo, AU Lifetime Achievement Awardee Ellery Schempp, AU Trustee John Suarez.