World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

McCollum v. Board of Education

McCollum v. Board of Education
Argued December 8, 1947
Decided March 8, 1948
Full case name People of State of Illinois ex rel. Vashti McCollum v. Board of Education of School District № 71, Champaign County, Illinois, et al.
Citations 333 U.S. 203 (more)
The use of public school facilities by religious organizations to give religious instruction to school children violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Black, joined by Vinson, Murphy, Douglas
Concurrence Frankfurter, joined by Jackson, Rutledge, Burton
Concurrence Jackson
Dissent Reed
Laws applied
U.S. Const., Amends. I and XIV

McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948), was a landmark 1948 United States Supreme Court case related to the power of a state to use its tax-supported public school system in aid of religious instruction. The case was an early test of the separation of church and state with respect to education.

The case tested the principle of "released time", where public schools set aside class time for religious instruction. The Court struck down a Champaign, Illinois program as unconstitutional because of the public school system's involvement in the administration, organization and support of religious instruction classes. The Court noted that some 2,000 communities nationwide offered similar released time programs affecting 1.5 million students.


  • Background 1
  • Decision of the Court 2
    • Dissent 2.1
  • Subsequent developments 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The case was brought by Vashti McCollum, the mother of a student enrolled in the Champaign public school district.

In 1940, interested members of various Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths formed an association named the Champaign Council on Religious Education. This association obtained permission from the Champaign Board of Education to offer voluntary religious education classes for public school students from grades four to nine. These weekly 30- and 45-minute classes were led by clergy and lay members of the association in public school classrooms during school hours.

McCollum, an Atheist, objected to the religious classes, stating that her son James was ostracized for not attending them. After complaints to school officials to stop offering these classes went unheeded, McCollum sued the school board in July 1945, stating that the religious instruction in the public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment—the principle of separation of church and state in the United States. McCollum also complained that the school district's religious education classes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The principal elements of the McCollum complaint were that:

  • In actual practice certain Protestant groups exercised an advantage over other Protestant denominations.
  • The school district's calling the classes "voluntary" was in name only because school officials coerced or forced students' participation.
  • The power exercised by the Champaign Council on Religious Education in its selection of instructors, and the school superintendent's oversight of these instructors served to determine which religious faiths participated in the instructional program, and constituted a prior censorship of religion.

In her suit, McCollum asked that the Board of Education be ordered to "adopt and enforce rules and regulations prohibiting all instruction in and teaching of all religious education in all public schools in Champaign District Number 71, and in all public school houses and buildings in said district when occupied by public schools".

The Circuit Court of Champaign County ruled in favor of the school district in January 1946, and upon appeal the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling.

Decision of the Court

McCollum appealed the case to the U. S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, taking oral arguments in December 1947. A number of religious groups including the American Unitarian Association, the Synagogue Council of America, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Baptist Joint Committee of Religious Liberty filed briefs in support of McCollum’s position.[1][2]

On March 8, 1948, the Court ruled 8-1 in favor of McCollum, ruling that the classes were unconstitutional.

In the majority opinion, written by Justice Hugo Black, the Court held that


The lone dissenting justice, Stanley Forman Reed, objected to the breadth of the majority's interpretation of the Establishment Clause and stated that an incidental support of religion should have been permissible with a more narrow reading of the First Amendment.

Subsequent developments

The Supreme Court's ruling remanded the case to the Illinois high court for relief consistent with the federal ruling.

The high court revisited the issue of religious instruction in Zorach v. Clauson in 1952. The 6 to 3 ruling in the later case held that a New York program allowing religious education during the school day was permissible, because it did not use public school facilities or public funds.

See also


  1. ^ Lieblich, Julia (18 May 1998), "Back to the Future?", Christianity Today. 
  2. ^ Dart, John (19 September 2006), "A pioneer figure in church-state rulings", Christian Century. 

Further reading

  • Cushman, Robert F. (1950). "Public Support of Religious Education in American Constitutional Law". Illinois Law Review 45: 333.  
  • Patric, Gordon (1957). "The Impact of a Court Decision: Aftermath of the McCollum Case". BYU Journal of Public Law 6: 455.  
  • Sullivan, Russell N. (1949). "Religious Education in the Schools". Law and Contemporary Problems 14 (1): 92–112.  
  • McCollum, Dannel (2008). The Lord Was Not On Trial: The Inside Story of the Supreme Court's Precedent-Setting McCollum Ruling. Americans For Religious Liberty.  

External links

  • Text of McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  LII 
  • case in circuit court, dated September 24, 1945McCollum v. Board of EducationTIME article on
  • TIME article on Illinois Supreme Court's ruling against McCollum, dated February 10, 1947
  • TIME article on oral arguments before U.S. Supreme Court, dated December 22, 1947
  • TIME article on U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of McCollum, dated March 22, 1948
  • TIME article on theologists' views of ruling in McCollum case, dated July 19, 1948
  • TIME article on Catholic bishops' denunciation of Supreme Court ruling, dated November 29, 1948
  • The Lord is not on trial here todayPBS documentary
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.