State v. Frazier

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation173 P. 35,102 Wash. 369
Docket Number14515.
PartiesSTATE ex rel. DEARLE et al. v. FRAZIER, Superintendent of Schools, et al.
Decision Date10 May 1918

Department 2. Appeal from Superior Court, Snohomish County; Ralph C Bell, Judge.

Proceedings by the State, on the relation of Albert M. Dearle and another, for a writ of mandate against C. R. Frazier, as superintendent of Schools of School District No. 24, of Snohomish County, and J. B. Meyers and others, as School Board of said district. Decree for relators, and defendants appeal. Reversed and remanded, with directions.

Holcomb J., dissenting in part.

Lloyd L. Black, Clifford Newton, and John Sandidge, all of Everett for appellants.

Wm. A Johnson, of Everett, for respondents.


This cause is one brought by the petitioners below, respondents on this appeal, to compel appellants by writ of mandate to give petitioners an examination in the course of Bible study, and to compel appellants to give them high school credits for graduation for such Bible study.

'A large proportion of the early inhabitants of this country were driven from their native homes by religious persecution, and sought an asylum in a savage wilderness, preferring hardships, privations and danger rather right to submit to any interference with their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. To Massachusetts came the Puritans; to Rhode Island, the Baptists; to the Carolinas, the Huguenots; to Maryland, the Catholics; to Pennsylvania, the Quakers; while other denominations established themselves in different localities where they could enjoy this inestimable privilege, either alone or in comity with other tolerant sects. It was, no doubt, with a full consideration of the heterogeneous elements composing our nation, and the memory of the persecutions of their ancestors, that the people of all the states adopted constitutional safeguards against religious intolerance, and all but two of the original thirteen states declared a complete divorce between the government and creed. * * * This growth of public sentiment has continued until the adoption of our own Constitution, the provisions of which on this subject are as broad, if not broader, and more positive and more comprehensive, than similar provisions in any of the other state Constitutions. This growth does not, however, indicate a decrease in religious sentiment among the people; these provisions have not been the work of the enemies, but of the friends of religion. It is not that the men who framed and the people who adopted these constitutional enactments were wanting in reverence for the Bible, and respect and veneration for the sublime and pure morality taught therein, but because they were unwilling that any avenue should be left open for the invasion of the right of absolute freedom of conscience in religious affairs; because that they were unwilling that any man should be required, directly or indirectly, to contribute toward the promulgation of any religious creed, doctrine or sentiment to which his conscience did not lend full assent.' 1 Opinions of the Attorney General, 142.

Two provisions of our state Constitutions to which the Attorney General has attended, and which have a bearing upon our present discussion are as follows:

'All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence.' Article 9, § 4.
'No public money or property shall be appropriated for, or applied to, any religious worship, exercise or instruction or the support of any religious establishment.' Article 1, § 11.

The question calling for this opinion was:

'Can a teacher employed in the common schools of this state, without violating any law of the state, or any provision of the state Constitution, conduct devotional or religious exercises at the opening of the school day, or during any part of the school day as prescribed by law, by the singing of hymns or other sacred music, or by reading passages from the Bible, without comment, or by repeating or causing to be repeated, without comment, what is usually known as the Lord's Prayer?'

This opinion has ever been regarded as fair interpretation of the intent of the framers of our Constitution and of the people who adopted it. It has been twice followed by succeeding Attorneys General. Op. Atty. Gen. 1909-1910, 135; Op. Atty. Gen. 1915-1916, 254. In the first instance the query was:

'Has a teacher the legal right to open school each morning with a prayer?

In the second instance in answer to the query:

'May the directors or a school district prescribe a course of Bible study for high school students and grant school credits to apply toward graduation from such high schools to students who successfully pass examinations upon such course of Bible study, provided that such Bible study shall be optional and shall be pursued outside of the public school money, and that no part of the public school money, time or property be used in conducting such courses'

--the Attorney General held that:

'The legal objection to the proposed system of Bible study is that the courses of study are made a part of the public school curriculum.'

Many people sincerely believe that a cultivation of religious sentiment, which we may admit is essential to the development of an enlightened citizenship, should be a part of the education and training of the children of our country, and they as firmly believe that the version of the Bible which is accepted and acknowledged by the great majority of the citizens of this country should be made the vehicle of that development. They believe that the Constitution can have no application, unless an attempt is made to advance the doctrine of a particular denomination, or to instill the dogma of sect in the mind of the pupil. Consequently it has been resolved by assemblies of teachers in this country and other countries that a course in Bible study should be a part of school work. In 1915 the state board of education adopted the following resolution:

'Since the board looks with favor upon allowing credits for Bible study done outside of school, it is moved that a committee be appointed to consider a plan for allowing such credits, one-half credit to be given for Old Testament, and one-half credit for New Testament, on the basis of thirty to thirty-two credits for high school graduation, and that a syllabus of Bible study be issued under the auspices of the state department of education with rules and regulations for the distribution of examination questions at least once a year.'

The plan thus outlined is in effect, so we are informed by counsel, in Spokane, Tacoma, Centralia, Sunnyside, and Everett, from whence this case comes. To make the plan feasible, and to avoid the rock of the Constitution as we may well presume, the school board adopted the following resolution:

'Resolved, by the board of education, Everett, Washington, that high school credit for Bible study may be allowed to the members of the Everett High School to the extent of the credit on Old Testament Scriptures and one credit on New Testament Scriptures, under the following conditions:
'First. Credit shall be granted only after successfully passing an examination covering the historical, biographical, narrative and literary features of the Bible, and based upon an outline to be hereafter adopted by the board of education.
'Second. Supervision of instruction in Bible shall not be undertaken by the high school beyond the furnishing of a syllabus or outline and the setting of examination, rating of papers and determining of credit.
'Third. It is contemplated that all personal instruction and interpretation shall be given in the home or by the religious organizations with which the students are affiliated, following the outline furnished by the board of education.
'Fourth. Not more than one credit in Bible shall be allowed an individual in any one school year.
'Fifth. It is assumed that this work will require the equivalent of one 45-minute lesson per week through the school year and the equivalent of three hours per week in outside study.'

Authority for this resolution is found by counsel in the resolution of the state board of education, and in the Code:

'Every board of directors of a school district of the first class shall * * * have the power: * * * Second. To prescribe a course of study and a program of exercises which shall not be inconsistent with the course of study prepared by the state board of education, for the use of the common schools of the state. * * * Fourth. To adopt and enforce such rules and regulations as may be deemed essential to the well-being of the schools, and to establish and maintain such credits and departments, including night, high, kindergarten, manual training, and industrial schools, * * * as shall, in the judgment of the board, best promote the interests of education in that district.' Rem. Code, § 4509.

Counsel for respondent bases his argument upon two propositions:

First. The resolution does not establish or maintain any school system which is under sectarian control or influence.
Second. There is no expenditure of public funds for any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the aid or support of any religious establishment.

The first premise will be dismissed, not because it will not bear argument, for there is much argument and authority on either side, but because the case can be determined by reference to the second premise alone. The framers of the Constitution were not content to declare that our public schools should be kept free from sectarian control or influence; they went further and made it certain that their declaration should not be overcome by...

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  • Bd. of Educ. of Baltimore County v. Wheat, 58.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • May 20, 1938
    ...632; State v. Weedman, 55 S.D. 343, 226 N.W. 348; Synod of Dakota v. State, 2 S.D. 366, 50 N.W. 632, 14 L.R.A. 418; State v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 173 P. 35, L.R.A. 1918F, 1056; State v. District Board of School Dist., 76 Wis. 177, 44 N.W. 967, 7 L.R.A. 330, 20 Am.St.Rep. 41; State ex rel......
  • State ex rel. Finger v. Weedman, 6130.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 27, 1929
    ...word “religious” in the place of the word “sectarian” in section 16, supra. These words, however, are not synonymous. State v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 173 P. 35, L. R. A. 1918F, 1056; 2 Schofield, Constitutional Law and Equity, 497; Oxford Dictionary; Webster's New International Dictionary.......
  • Engel v. Vitale
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New York)
    • August 24, 1959
    ...supra, note 148. 157 State ex rel. Weiss v. District Board, 76 Wis. 177, 44 N.W. 967, 7 L.R.A. 330; State ex rel. Dearle v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 173 P. 35, L.R.A.1918F, 158 Use of the Bible generally for other than sectarian instruction was permitted in State ex rel. Freeman v. Scheve, s......
  • Malyon v. Pierce County, 63664-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • April 24, 1997
    ...comprehensive' " in the area of public education. Witters II, 112 Wash.2d at 370, 771 P.2d 1119 (citing State ex rel. Dearle v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 375, 173 P. 35 (1918)). We agree with the Court of Appeals that "[t]he language of section 11 alone virtually demands an interpretation dif......
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