50 Years Later
June 17, 1963 – It was the day when what has been called “the most tragic decision in the history of the United States” was announced by the highest Court of the land (Moore, One Nation Under God 362). The response of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia was: “Somebody is tampering with America’s soul. . . .” By an overwhelming eight-to-one ruling, the Supreme Court drove a final stake into the heart of Bible reading and prayer in America’s public schools. Our nation’s public educational system has never recovered from the decision announced 50 years ago.
This decision, in itself, is not the sole cause of that concerning which I speak. Along with several related Court decisions preceding this one, and linked to a cultural secular mind-set, the June 17, 1963, decision has made our public schools, colleges, and universities a mortal danger to the lives and souls of young people.
Dr. Ernest Gordon, the late dean of Princeton University Chapel painted the picture very well. He said, “During the late fifties I was invited to address the senior class of an English department in a city high school. When I arrived at the school, I introduced myself to the assistant headmaster, whose office was at the entrance. He guided me to the appropriate lecture hall. . . . Twenty years later, I was invited to the same school for the same purpose. I again presented myself to the same office, but it was no longer the habitat of an educator. . . . It was the command post of a police inspector. Corridor and class rooms were monitored by police officers who reported regularly to the inspector. The reasons for the change were obvious: violence, assault, rape, drug-induced madness. . . . I interpret the scene as evidence of the end times of a civilization that had once benefited from the Christian worldview, one that exalted creation and people and provided ideals essential for an authentic education. I recognize that civilization does not create Christians. However, the community of faith created and still creates the civility that is evidence of civilization. The demoralized school is the tragic consequence of society’s rejection of the biblical worldview that provided the intellectual dynamic of Western education” (Kennedy, The Root of the Problem 3-4).
In sharp contrast to Dr. Gordon’s plaint is the confused and sickening jubilant spirit of an Op-Ed in the current issue of Free Inquiry published by the Council For Secular Humanism. Titled, “Secular Humanists Are Winning, Winning,” the article’s author, James A. Haught, a Senior Editor for this print bastion of skepticism, as well as being editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, applauded the “good news . . . that religion is dying” in America, as it has in Europe, Canada, Australia, etc. He rejoices that “school prayer has been banned,” and that humanists are “turning the culture upside down.” He is happy because, unlike the “narrow-minded sanctimony” of the 1950’s, the teaching and belief of evolution are widespread, and secular humanism has brought about changes that have transformed America to be, “fairer, kinder, more humane, more honest, and more decent.” Really? Mr. Haught’s fellow Senior Editor of Free Inquiry, militant atheist, Richard Dawkins, has not been as confident in giving credit to evolution for making culture “fairer, kinder, more honest and decent.” Dawkins has written, “I am not advocating a morality based on evolution.” Amazingly Dawkins admits that a human society based on the implications of evolution “would be a very nasty society in which to live” (The Selfish Gene 2-3, emp. added).
The story of the landmark lawsuit filed and won in the Supreme Court by Madelyn Murray O’Hair on June 17, 1963, has been reported by O’Hair’s son, William J. Murray, in his book, My Life Without God. He tells of the tragedy of his upbringing as the son of the one of America’s most famous atheists, and as the 14 year old plaintiff representing his mother’s hatred of God in the infamous June 17, 1963, Supreme Court decision in Murray v. Curlett. Anyone wondering whether June 17, 1963, is among “the most tragic decisions” the Supreme Court has rendered needs to hear William Murray’s story. His change from atheism to belief in God is interesting. His apology, in effect to America, is sobering. He said, “I would like to apologize for whatever part I played in the removal of Bible reading and praying from public schools. . . . I now see the damage this removal has caused to our nation in the form of loss of faith and moral decline.”
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. 1976. New York/Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Haught, James A. "Secular Humanists are Winning, Winning." Free Inquiry. 33. 4 (June/July 2013): 11, 43.
Moore, James P., Jr. One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America. New York: Doubleday, 2005.
Murray, William J. My Life without God. 1982. Nashville: Nelson, 1983.
Kennedy, D. James. The Root of the Problem. Ft. Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, 2004.