Thu. May 23rd, 2024
<img src="" alt="Noel Scott holds a sign as he protesters June 27, 2005 in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Credits: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Noel Scott holds a sign as he protesters June 27, 2005 in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Credits: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Written by Robert Sobel for

It took an internet meme to bring the topic out, but the United States has a history of historical figures speaking out against religion in public schools.

While scrolling through the morning news feed, I came across an internet meme which had multiple quotes of high-profile Americans, from presidents to civil rights leaders to inventors, all who made their opinion known on the issue of religion in public schools. After some fact checking, the meme proved to be true. Adding additional quotes, here are nine quotes from historical Americans who have spoken out against religion being imposed in taxpayer-funded public schools.

1. ”I believe in an America where theseparation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”- President John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1960


2. ”I do not believe that any type of religion should ever be introduced into the public schools of the United States.” –Thomas Edison


3. ”The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization (school), to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.”- President James Garfield


4. ”I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be nonsectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” - President Teddy Roosevelt, Carnegie Hall address, October 12, 1915


5. ”I believe that prayer in public schools should be voluntary. It is difficult for me to see how religious exercises can be a requirement in public schools, given our Constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.”- President Gerald Ford


6. ”Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.” - President Ulysses S. Grant


7. ”We should not have teacher-led prayers in public schools, and school officials should never favor one religion over another, or favor religion over no religion” - President George W. Bush 2000


8. ”The public schools shall be free from sectarian influences and, above all, free from any attitude of hostility to the adherents of any particular creed.” –President Franklin D. Roosevelt


9. (On the Supreme Court ban on prayer in schools): “I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.” - Martin Luther King JR. 1965

The issue of religion in public schools is nothing new, but it’s gained steamed over the years as the evangelical Christian right has taken over much of the Republican party. In 1962, the U.S Supreme Court decided in Engel v. Vitale, by a vote of 6-1, that holding school-wide, non-denominational prayer at the start of the public school day violates the “Establishment of Religion” clause of the First Amendment. Over the years, additional court cases have also ruled in favor of the separation of church and state including Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963,Chamberlin v. Dade County Board in 1964, Wallace v. Jaffre in 1985 and Lee v. Weisman in 1992.


The First Amendment of the Constitution makes it clear that the United States is a secular country that gives every citizen the right to choose any religion, or lack of religion, that they wish. Following the words of these prominent Americans, it’s clear that religion should remain in church and out of the classroom.


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