Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


Foundations of Education

First Advisor

James C Carper


Since its inception in the mid-1800s, public education has been one of the most contested arenas in American life. Among the battles fought in this domain, none have been more heated than the appropriate role of religion in the public schools. From the 1844 Philadelphia Bible Riots, to the 1925 debate over Darwinism and Creationism, to recent skirmishes regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, these and other disputes have been the subject of considerable scholarship. In South Carolina, however, one controversy regarding the intersection of religion and public education has received little attention, namely the trio of harshly criticized Supreme Court decisions between 1962 and 1963. At the height of the Cold War and in the midst of racial integration, the High Court in Engel v. Vitale (1962) ruled that state-sanctioned, non-denominational prayer violated the First Amendment's no-establishment clause. In response, the majority of South Carolinians decried the ruling as advancing a Communist agenda and permitting the federal government to intrude into state matters. This indignation only intensified after the Supreme Court held that devotional Bible reading and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer as seen in Abington v. Schempp (1963) and Murray v. Curlett (1963) were violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Once again, South Carolinians were very vocal in expressing their fear that the removal of longstanding religious exercises from the public school would allow atheism to fester which, in turn, would promote Communism. Despite the Palmetto State's fondness for religion, surprisingly some citizens and religious denominations, especially Jewish leaders, applauded the decisions as a way of upholding Jefferson's &ldquo'wall of separation'&ldquo principle. Those who supported the decisions often understood that South Carolina, which by the twentieth century was more pluralistic than ever before, had no authority to assume a religion or mandate religious practices in any public institution. Despite the Supreme Court's edicts, religion still characterizes the state of South Carolina and will therefore remain a hotly contested topic in the structuring of public institutions, such as the public school.