Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a militant left wing atheist with close ties to the American Communist Party, took the school board of Baltimore to court for allowing prayer in school. The local court judge J. Gilbert Pendergast dismissed the petition stating, “It is abundantly clear that petitioners’ real objective is to drive every concept of religion out of the public school system.” The case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the court ruled, “neither the First nor the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to stifle all rapport between religion and government.”
The case was then heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Leonard Kerpelman addressed the court saying prayer in the public schools had been tolerated for so long that it had become traditional and that anything that is unconstitutional does not become constitutional through tradition. He went on to say the Constitution had erected a “wall of separation” between church and state, at which point Justice Potter Steward interrupted, asking where this wording appears. Kerpelman was stumped and an embarrassing silence followed. When he regained his composure, he stated that the text was not explicit on the point but that it had been interpreted to mean so.
Incredibly, the National Council of Churches and several