81. McCollum v. Board of Education, 396 Ill. 14 (1947)

Background: The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution includes the phrase: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Although designed to prevent the establishment of a state religion, the ramifications of that phrase, coupled with Thomas Jefferson's description of it as a "wall of separation" between church and state, have since been debated.

The Document: Vashti McCollum, an atheist, sued the Champaign public school district in opposition to religious education classes that were being taught in the schools. McCollum argued that the teaching of religion in public schools violated the principle of separation of church and state. The Champaign County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the school district. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. However, McCollum appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1948 ruled that the religious education classes were unconstitutional and that public school systems cannot aid any religious groups or sects.

Note: The majority opinion in McCollum v. Board of Education is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Supreme Court of Illinois Record Series 901.001, "Case Files.