Thursday, March 13, 2008


EDITORIAL CONTACT: Gina Logue, 615-898-5081

Lecture Commemorates 60th Anniversary of Pivotal Church-State Separation Ruling

(MURFREESBORO) – Dr. Jim McCollum, whose mother’s lawsuit against his public school system for mandating religious instruction resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, will speak from 1-2 p.m. Monday, March 17, in Room 106 of the Paul W. Martin Honors Building at MTSU. This event, sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Nashville chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is free and open to the public. McCollum was a fifth-grader when the Champaign, Ill. public schools began to employ members of a local ecumenical clergy organization to substitute their religious instruction for about 30 minutes each day for the secular teaching provided under the state’s compulsory education law. His mother, Vashti McCollum, sued the Champaign Board of Education on the grounds that the schools were in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. A circuit court decided in favor of the school board, and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld that decision. However, on March 8, 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by an 8-1 margin in Mrs. McCollum’s favor. This year marks the 60th anniversary of McCollum v. Board of Education. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black opined that “… the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere.” The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The portion of the Fourteenth Amendment pertinent to the case states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the 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.”
McCollum, now a computer technician at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Ark., also is slated to speak with his wife, Rev. Betty McCollum, a Unitarian minister, from 7:30-9 a.m., Monday, March 17, in Room 101 of Buttrick Hall at Vanderbilt University. Coffee and pastries will be served. Reservations are requested. To make reservations, call the Nashville chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State at 615-646-9946 or On Sunday, March 16, at 11 a.m., Rev. McCollum will deliver a sermon titled “When Dreams Collide” at the Greater Nashville Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 374 Hicks Road in Nashville. Rev. McCollum also is a professor of religious studies at Southern Arkansas University. Dr. McCollum will speak to the children of the church and at a public meeting at the church at 7 p.m., preceded by an optional potluck supper. To specify a potluck dish, contact Charles Sumner at To hear Dr. Jim McCollum discuss McCollum v. Board of Education and the status of separation of church and state in America today, listen to “MTSU On the Record” with Gina Logue on WMOT-FM at 89.5 on the FM dial at 7 a.m. Sunday, March 16. The program also will be available on the Internet at For more information, contact the MTSU Department of Political Science at 615-898-2708.

ATTENTION, MEDIA: For a small color jpeg of Dr. Jim McCollum, contact Gina Logue in the MTSU Office of News and Public Affairs at 615-898-5081 or

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