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Edward L. Schempp, 95; Challenged Required Bible Reading in Schools

November 25, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

Edward L. Schempp, a parent and social activist whose lawsuit challenging the required reading of Bible verses in school led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on the practice, has died. He was 95.

Schempp died Nov. 8 of heart failure at a nursing home in Hayward, Calif.

In 1956, Schempp's son Ellery was a junior at Abington High School in Abington, Pa., when he told his parents he objected to the required reading of the Bible in his homeroom.

To emphasize his opposition to the practice, the younger Schempp read passages from the Koran during the Bible-reading time and was sent to the principal's office.

After his son was reprimanded, the elder Schempp, a native Philadelphian and a Unitarian, filed a federal suit against the school with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1959, a three-judge federal panel ruled the state's Bible-reading law unconstitutional.

A similar case in Baltimore, filed by atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, was combined with Schempp's suit.

In an 8-1 ruling on June 17, 1963, the high court barred mandatory Bible reading in public schools.

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