News Release

Ellery Schempp to present Constitution Day lecture

Contact: Constance Woods


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Ellery Schempp

     HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University’s Department of History and Political Science will mark Constitution Day, Sept. 17, with a guest lecture by Ellery Schempp on a pivotal moment in American constitutional history from someone who was actually there. 

     The free lecture is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Pottle Music Building Auditorium.

     Schempp’s topic, “Our Constitution and Religious Freedom -- My Personal Experiences,” highlights landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case of Abington School District v. Schempp, which declared that public school-sanctioned Bible readings were unconstitutional.

     On Nov. 26, 1956, Schempp, now an accomplished physicist whose research contributed to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), staged a protest when his school required students to read 10 Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer during homeroom. In protest, he brought a copy of the Quran and read from it, resulting in being sent to the principal’s office. His father Edward Schempp and the American Civil Liberties Union assisted him in suing the Abington School District over their policy of mandatory Bible readings.The case was eventually decided in Ellery's favor by the Supreme Court in 1963, five years after he had graduated from high school.

     “Abington School District vs. Schempp is extremely relevant to the ongoing discussion in our country about separation of church and state,” said Bill Robison, head of the Department of History and Political Science. “I hope that Dr. Schempp’s appearance will stimulate further discussion in classes at Southeastern and in the surrounding community about the Constitution and in particular about the important relationship between church and state in our society.”

     Robison said the department’s annual Constitution Day lecture was established both to celebrate the Constitution and “to educate our students and the public about its history, its role in our own lives today, and the continuing debate about how we should interpret and apply it in public and private life.”

     “As with all of our public lectures,” he said, “we want to offer audiences a variety of perspectives. The experience that Dr. Schempp brings to the subject of the Constitution and religious freedom is unique.”

     A native of Philadelphia, Schempp graduated from Tufts University where he earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and geology. He received his doctorate in physics from Brown University in 1967.

     Following his lecture, Schempp will sign copies of New York University law professor Stephen D. Solomon’s book, “Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer.”

     For more information about the lecture contact Robison at (985) 549-2109.

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