Separation or Violation?: The Struggle for Neutrality Regarding Religious Expression in the Public Schools
Since the late 1940's, when Vashti McCollum challenged the use of public tax dollars to provide voluntary religious education during the school day in McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the issue of religion in public schools has incited conflict and debate. The question of whether or not federal money should be used to provide religious education sparked a deluge of court cases challenging the practice. The answer was definitive in Engel v. Vitale (1962) which officially separated Church from state in the American public school system. Now, more than 40 years later, the issue of boundaries between Church and state still live and spark new controversies. Most notably, the question of what constitutes an endorsement of religion versus what defines neutrality towards religion plagues the legal system. The issue of federal funding once again surfaces in response to cases in which students wish to form a religious group or publish a religious magazine. Apart from funding issues, students' actions are called into question if those actions reflect a religious bias or background. Situations abound in which the administrators of the school involved or concerned parents believe that religion has been illegally introduced into the curriculum, and these cases are defining the level of tolerance for religion in the public school arena for the future.