This action seeks to test the constitutionality of the provisions of the Laws of New Jersey with respect to religious services or exercises in the public schools of the state, and is presented for determination upon cross-motions for summary judgment on the pleadings. The statutes under attack are N.J.S.A. 18:14-77:
"Reading Bible at opening of school.
"At least five verses taken from that portion of the Holy Bible known as the Old Testament shall be read, or caused to be read, without comment, in each public school classroom, in the presence of the pupils therein assembled, by the teacher in charge, at the opening of school upon every school day, unless there is a general assemblage of the classes at the opening of the school on any school day, in which event the reading shall be done, or caused to be done, by the principal or teacher in charge of the assemblage and in the presence of the classes so assembled."
" Religious services or exercises.
"No religious service or exercise, except the reading of the Bible and the repeating of the Lord's Prayer, shall be held in any school receiving any portion of the moneys appropriated for the support of public schools."
Plaintiffs shortly contend that compliance with the statutes constitutes religious education and services in aid of one or more religions and in preference of one or more religions over others, and in that public funds and taxes are authorized to support religious activities and institutions and for the purpose of teaching and practicing religion, and so contravenes the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, which read as follows:
"RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, &C.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
"CITIZENS AND THEIR RIGHTS
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff Doremus is a citizen and taxpayer of the Township of Rutherford, New Jersey, and plaintiff Klein is a citizen and taxpayer of the Borough of Hawthorne, New Jersey, and the mother of Gloria Klein, a student in the Hawthorne High School, which is a public school operated by the Board of Education and supported by public funds appropriated by the State and by said Borough. Defendant Board of Education is complying with the laws and, although rules promulgated and directives issued by it permit any student to be excused from the classroom upon request when the Bible is read or the Lord's Prayer recited, no such request has ever been made by plaintiff Klein or her daughter. The matter, therefore, is submitted to the Court solely on the question of constitutionality, and appears to be of novel impression.
Although there is a diversity of opinion in the State courts as to statutes specifically permitting or requiring the Bible to be read in public schools, the great weight of authority generally seems to hold that such statutes do not contravene the provisions of the several state Constitutions.
That we are fundamentally a religious people is beyond dispute. An excellent review of the American organic utterances which speak the voice of the entire people, and which affirm and ...