March 2020 Church & State | Featured

This special issue of Church & State focuses on school prayer and the larger issue of religion’s role in public education. If you want to learn more about these important issues, here are some books Americans United recommends:

School Prayer: The Court, the Con­gress, and the First Amendment by Robert S. Alley (Prometheus Books, 1994). Alley, late professor of humanities at the University of Richmond, provides an overview of the development of church-state separation in colonial America and then segues into a discussion of government-sponsored school prayer. Especially useful is Alley’s in-depth examination of several efforts to add school prayer amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Although out of print, the book is easy to find at online booksellers.

Without A Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools by Robert S. Alley (Prometheus Books, 1996). Alley’s follow-up book has a more personal feel as he brings together the compelling, and often disturbing, stories of families who have challenged school-sponsored prayer and other forms of religious worship.

The Battle Over School Prayer: How Engel v. Vitale Changed America by Bruce J. Dierenfield (University Press of Kansas, 2007). Dierenfield’s book contains an in-depth look at the first school prayer case to reach the Supreme Court, Engel v. Vitale. This well-researched tome provides valuable context for that landmark ruling, and in an afterword, Dierenfield, professor of American history at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., gives an update on several of the plaintiffs, who were children when the case was filed.

Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer by Stephen D. Solomon (University of Michigan Press, 2007). Solomon, who teaches First Amendment law at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, tells the whole story behind Abington Township School District v. Schempp, a 1963 case in which the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in Pennsylvania public schools. The book contains a lot of engaging detail, and it gives a good feel for what it’s like to pursue a case all the way to the highest court in the land.

The Lord Was Not on Trial: The Inside Story of the Supreme Court’s Precedent-Setting McCollum Ruling by Dannel McCollum (Freedom From Religion Foundation, 2008). The Supreme Court’s 1948 ruling in McCollum v. Board of Education, which struck down a program in Illinois during which students were released from class to attend religious instruction onsite at their schools, laid the groundwork for the school-prayer rulings of the early 1960s. This book, written by a member of the McCollum family, provides an inside look at the case.