Ed Schempp

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Schempp, Ed (29 February 1908 - 14 November 2003)

Schempp was joined by Madalyn Murray O’Hair in the historic lawsuit in which the Supreme Court ruled that Bible readings were illegal in U.S. schools. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer in the School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania, because of their efforts was ruled a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In 1993, Schempp told Church and State that he and his wife Sidney has raised their three children in a church-affiliated with the Unitarian Universalists, that his son Ellory had been sixteen at the time his high school was mandating ten Bible Verses to be announced over the public address system at the start of the day, and that Ellory had rebelled by reading the Qur’an instead of standing for the daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. His infuriated teacher had sent Ellory to the principal, the principal was speechless when young Schempp would not relent, and the result in 1963 was Abington Township School District v. Schempp.

The principal, a Methodist minister, wrote letters to universities where Ellory had applied, labeling him a “troublemaker” and appealing to Tufts University in Boston even after it had accepted him. Ellory later earned a doctorate in physics at Brown University and today manages a high technology superconductor firm. Commenting upon the prayer and Bible reading problem in 1993, Ellory Schempp has said,

  • It’s a sad thing that school prayer continues to be so divisive. There are some groups in the country that feel very strongly that symbolic acts of this kind are very important to them. But what these people don’t understand is that this kind of religion by rote does not foster Christian values. I think it is important that [separationists] continue to take these cases on. . . . We have to realize there is a proper sphere for religion and a proper sphere for public schools. I wish we would focus on providing a proper education in the schools rather than worry about providing a little Bible reading.

A native Philadelphian, Ed Schempp took over his father's hardware business as a young man and later worked in electronics. He was active in Unitarianism and peace groups. Also, he was a longtime member and honorary officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and was featured in the Foundation film, Champions of the First Amendment. “Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion . . . Why don't we celebrate living, instead of worrying about damnation and sin?” he said, upon receiving the Humanist of the Year Award in 1996. Schempp and his wife of 69 years, Sidney, had three children.