Religious groups in Illinois during the 1940s formed an association, called the Champaign Council on Religious Education, which would offer free lessons on religion to public schools in the Champaign County. These groups included the Jewish, Roman Catholic and some of the Protestants faiths. This council would cooperate with the Champaign Board of Education to offer voluntary religious teachings to those students. Students who attended these lessons had to obtain permission from their parents. Those who did not attend these classes were put in another classroom where they continued with their secular studies (U.S. Supreme Court, 2004). If this was not enough, these students who did not attend the religious lessons were loaded with exercises to keep them busy during that period.
These religious lessons would be conducted once a week for a period of thirty minutes to forty minutes. These lessons took place in the school buildings that are a property of the State.
It was because of this that in 1945, Vashti McCollum, mother to James, a student enrolled in one of the public schools in Champaign County, Illinois sued the Board of Education of School District of Champaign County, Illinois. She accused the school board of allowing religion to be taught in the public and yet there was a clear separation between the State and religion (U.S. Supreme Court, 2004).
McCollum’s issue was that the school was allocating class time and a venue to the religious groups to be able to instill their doctrines in the lives of the students (Schultz, 2009). She argued that by doing this the school was using taxpayer’s money to encourage and propagate the spread of religion. This she claimed should not have been the case and that normal secular learning should be taught. The Board of Education was interrupting normal teaching to bring in religious studies and yet that should not happen since it was prohibited in the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Also, she argued that some Protestant faiths would be more popular than others and that this was not fair. These few Protestant faiths would be taking advantage of this opportunity to gather more followers than the others (Schultz, 2009). It was also noted that the Jewish faith had not been taught in a long time.
She claimed that she was being taxed for purposes which were not lawful. Holding religious meetings in a state property for which she was paying taxes was unconstitutional.
On the other hand, the Board of Education argued for their defense that they were not paying the religious teachers for those lessons. They claimed that they did not see anything wrong at allocating them a venue just because the lessons were being offered free-of-charge. According to U.S. Supreme Court. (2004) this same board claimed that since the parents had allowed their children to be taught, then there was nothing wrong for it to allocate time and a venue for them to receive these religious lessons.
This ruling raised a lot of questions as to why such a verdict could be reached. The Board of Education could not understand why the U.S Supreme Court could nullify a ruling by the State Court having established that the state statutes had given power to the board to come up with such a program. The higher court however held its stand saying that there should not be any integration between the State and religion. It was noted that the two laws should compliment each other and not contradict each other. This was one of the issues that the people pondered about.
The issue as to what extent the State and the Church can integrate was brought up. Mr Jefferson of the University of Virginia said that there should be clear separation between the two although religious activities could take place in the university as long as the students did not miss their normal lessons. This was not however the situation in this case because the students who took part in the religious classes were denied their right to be in a secular class as should be according to the law (Wald et al, 2009).
After much consultations and hearings the court finally decided on that matter. The court decided that there should be a clear separation between the State and religion. This meant that there should be no direct or indirect dealings between the State and the Church. That just because the school was not paying the religious teachers does not mean that the State was not involved in the dealings with religion (Bruce, 2005).
That the school had offered a venue to the council to conduct its religious doctrines and ideals was indeed an integration of the two. Moreover, the time allocated for these religious lessons was indeed the time the law had set aside for the secular teaching. This was directly a contravention of the State law.
The verdict issued was that it was constitutionally illegal to seclude some students from the others and force some to study whereas the others are not studying; they are only listening to religious ideologies. As Bruce (2005) notes this was not fair to the students. When some students are having a relaxed time listening to the religious teachers, some students are directed to another school building to study on their own. These students were left to their own devices something that was not should not be.
The court decided that separating some students from others will portray a picture that the students who missed the religious classes were truant. The court found that the Champaign education system was indeed trying as much as possible to integrate the state and the church. Allocating school time and classrooms would eventually be woven into the school program. This should not be the case as the there should be a thick wall between the two.
This decision by the Supreme Court was to define clearly that no public funds could in any way, directly or indirectly, be used in order to further any religious beliefs, doctrines or ideologies. The State should not be involved in establishing a church and not side with any particular faith.
The Zorach v. Clauson case in 1952 had a similar situation to the case that I have discussed herewith. This case wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to rule whether it was constitutionally right for the students from public schools to leave the school premises and go to the religious centers where they receive religious lessons (Wald et al. 2007). Unlike to the McCollum case, some claimed that there was no direct or indirect use of the tax-payers money; that all expenses were being paid by the religious group. However, some parents thought that the two cases were very much similar saying the churches were leaning on the schools to provide them with an audience for religious training. They further argued that the schools were putting their weight behind the religious programs and that teachers had the work of policing this program (Merriman, 2007).
In conclusion, this case created a large debate as to what extent the State and the Church can ‘work together’. This ruling had an impact on the state court decisions as well as on the administrative rulings, legislative decisions also the educational policies that would govern the public district schools. The judgment of this case showed how the constitution governing all the states can impact on the ruling at a single State’s court.