I recently saw an old CNN clip where 3 very religious people argued unanimously against the idea that atheists are discriminated against and that we are actually the ones who are intolerant. One of them blamed us for the removal of prayer in schools and I wondered whether that was factual - as you would hope from a news organization - or whether it was urban legend. Here
is what I found.
The removal of prayer from school began in 1943 with the SCOTUS case West Virgina State Board of Education v Barnette
. This case overturned a previous ruling whereby the courts said a school could compel students to salute the flag and recited the pledge of allegiance even if it was against their religious beliefs. The case was brought to court by Jehovahs Witnesses.
The next stop was 1948. McCollum v Board of Ed
. This was huge. It said publicly funded schools could not engage in religious instruction. It tested the separation of church and state. McCollum was an atheist and won the case.
This was followed up in 1952 by Zorach v. Clausen
. This allowed religious instruction during school hours provided it was not done on school grounds or with public money. This did not have a huge impact, other than to affirm McCollum.
1962, Engel v. Vitale
. At least as important as McCollum. It decided that states could not compose prayers and require their recitation in schools. The group that brought suit was made mainly of Jewish organizations.
1963, Abington School District v. Schempp
. Edward Schempp (not to be confused with Shemp Howard) was a unitarian universalist who sued Pennsylvania because the school forced children to read from the bible as part of their education. He won in the lower courts, but the state appealed. When brought to the SCOTUS, this suit was consolidated with Murray v Curlett. Murray, being Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Murray was supported by several jewish and xian organizations. The big decision from this was "...no matter the religious nature of the citizenry, the government at all levels, as required by the Constitution, must remain neutral in matters of religion "while protecting all, prefer[ring] none, and disparag[ing] none". The Court had clearly rejected "the contention by many that the Establishment Clause forbade only governmental preference of one faith over another"" ¾ of the case was brought by theists.
1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman
. Forbade public funds from financing private religious schools. It also established how to determine whether a law is breaking the establishment clause. I have found no information on the plaintiffs, much less whether they were religious or atheist. The best I can find is an unreliable and ubiquitously repeated "Alfred Lemon was the ACLU" attorney. This
identified him as "Alton Lemon".
1980, Stone v.Graham
. Forbade the ten commandments in classrooms. The Lemon test was applied an failed on the first prong - the legislation was not for secular goals. Stone was one of a group of parents bring suit. the best I can find on Stone is a well referenced term paper that says he was a unitarian from the ACLU and the group of parents were of a range of faiths - an atheist, a quaker, a jew and a catholic
. 3/4 were religious.
1985, Wallace v. Jaffree
. Moment of silence is religious in nature and cannot be enforced in schools. Jaffree was a lawyer and appears to have been an atheist, but I am not 100% sure.
1992 Lee v. Weisman
held that prayers led by religious “authorities” at graduation violated the separation clause. Principal Robert E Lee (yeah, his real name) invited a rabbi to speak and invoke the benediction at graduation. The Weisman family objected, sought a restraining order, lost and had to sue. It was a surprise victory in the supreme court since many assumed punk justice kennedy, who never liked Engle or Abington, would vote against separation. But he voted for it. I cannot find whether the weismans were atheists
2000 Santa Fe Independent School Dist v Doe
held that student led prayers before football games was unconstitutional. The suit was broght by mormon and catholic families.
So remember, the next time some xian gripes about atheists ruining everything and getting prayer kicked out of school, let them know the majority of the suits and landmark suits were by theists.
Any other related cases, whether they were brought by atheists or whether the people I could not track down were atheists is welcome.