On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, certified by this court on its own motion.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Vanderbilt, C.J.
The Gideons International is a nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of the State of Illinois, whose object is "to win men and women for the Lord Jesus Christ, through * * * (c) placing the Bible -- God's Holy Words -- or portions thereof in hotels, hospitals, schools, institutions, and also through the distribution of same for personal use." In recent years it began a campaign to make available to pupils in the public schools of this country the so-called "Gideon Bible," which was characterized by the International in its pleadings as "a book containing all of the New Testament, all of the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament, all of the Book of Proverbs from the Old Testament; all without note or comment, conformable to the edition of 1611, commonly known as the Authorized, or King James version of the Holy Bible." In furtherance of this campaign it applied by letter to the Board of Education of the Borough of Rutherford for permission to distribute its Bible to the public schools of that municipality:
Attention: Mr. Guy Hilleboe
The Gideons of Passaic and Bergen County, consisting of local business men, hereby offer to furnish, without charge, a volume containing the book of Psalms, Proverbs and the New Testament to each of the children in the schools of Rutherford from the fifth grade up through the eighth grade, and High School.
This offer is part of a national campaign conducted by the Gideons International to furnish the Word of God free to the young people
of our country from the fifth grade through the high school. If God's word is heard and heeded, if it is read and believed, we believe that this is the answer to the problem of juvenile delinquency.
If your board approves this distribution, we will be glad to have our committee work out the details with the principals of the schools.
PASSAIC COUNTY CAMP OF GIDEONS
The proposal was considered at a meeting of the board of education on November 5, 1951, at which time there was voiced some opposition to the proposal by a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi on the grounds that the Gideons' New Testament was sectarian and forbidden to Catholic and Jewish children under the laws of their respective religions. The proposal, however, was passed by the board with one dissenting vote, the resolution adopted providing that "the Gideons International be allowed to furnish copies of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs to those pupils who request them." Under date of November 21, 1951 the following request form for signature of the parents was prepared by the board of education and distributed to the pupils of the public schools of Rutherford:
"Rutherford Public Schools,
At the regular meeting of the Board of Education on November 5, 1951, The Gideon Bible Society, presented a request that the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs be made available, without cost, to all children who wish a copy. The Board approved this request provided the distribution be voluntary. If you wish a copy of this Bible, will you please sign the slip below and return it with your child to the school he attends by Friday, December 21.
Please request The Gideon Bible Society to provide my child , with a copy of the New
Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. This request involved no obligation on my part or on the part of the Board of Education.
On January 14, 1952 the board of education was advised by its counsel that the proposed distribution was in his opinion legal. At a principal's meeting on February 6, 1952 the following instructions were issued:
"(a) Only names of pupils whose parents had previously signed for the Bibles should be used in any announcement.
(b) Pupils whose parents had signed for Bibles are to report to the home room at the close of the session and no other pupils are to be in the room when the Bibles are distributed.
(c) Any announcement of names for the purpose of reporting after school should not include a reference as to the purpose of reporting."
Prior to the distribution of the books the present action was commenced demanding judgment as to the validity of the distribution under the Federal and New Jersey Constitutions and seeking an injunction against it. On February 19, 1952 the trial judge granted a temporary injunction and by order dated February 29, 1952 restrained the board of education from carrying out the terms of its resolution of December 10, 1951, until further determination of the action. By consent Gideons International was permitted to intervene as a party defendant. After a full hearing the trial judge on March 30, 1953 found in favor of the defendant and vacated the restraint and stay. By consent of the parties, however, the stay has been continued pending appeal. While the appeal was before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, we ordered certification on our own motion.
The plaintiff Bernard Tudor is an adherent of the Jewish religion, while plaintiff Ralph Lecoque is a member of the Catholic faith, each being a New Jersey citizen and taxpayer of Rutherford and a parent of a pupil in a Rutherford public school. Each contends that the Gideon Bible is "a sectarian work of peculiar religious value and significance to members of the Protestant faith." Mr. Tudor claiming that "its distribution to children of the Jewish faith violates the
teachings, tenets and principles of Judaism," while Mr. Lecoque states that "its distribution to children of Catholic faith violates the teachings, tenets and principles of Catholicism." After this action was commenced, the child of plaintiff Ralph Lecoque transferred from the public school to a Catholic parochial school and to the extent that the complaint was based upon his status as a parent, the issue became moot. The State of New Jersey was originally named as a party defendant but the action as to it has been dismissed. The Synagogue Council of America and the National Community Relations Advisory Council have submitted a brief amici curiae.
The American doctrine of the separation of Church and State cannot be understood apart from its history for it is the epitome of centuries of struggle and conflict. In 311 A.D. Christians were still being persecuted; but shortly thereafter the Fourth Century witnessed the toleration of Christianity in the Roman world. In 313 A.D. Constantine, the ruler of the West, and Licinius, the emperor of the East, met in Italy and proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which made the toleration of the Christian religion "a part of a universal toleration of all religions, and it establishes absolute freedom of worship," Innes, Church and State, p. 23. In 410 A.D. Rome was sacked by Alaric. Italy, as well as Spain and Africa, fell to the ...