Ellery Schempp, the high school student whose parents brought the original case on his behalf, continues to be an activist for church-state separation. In 2012, he showed up to support Jessica Ahlquist in her successful court fight to remove a prayer banner from her Cranston, Rhode Island, high school. (You can hear an interview with him on a 2012 episode of the AHA’s podcast, The Humanist Hour, here.) He also speaks regularly to humanist and secular groups across the country. He wrote an article for HNN last year for the 50th anniversary of another important church-separation case, Engel v. Vitale, a Supreme Court decision that ended school-sponsored prayers in public schools.
We caught up with Schempp during his current travels marking the 50th anniversary of the ruling in his case, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
HNN: From what you've seen since the 1963 court decision, including recent developments in the area of church-state separation, are you optimistic about our future?
Schempp: We know that the U.S. has gone through periods of religious fervor in the past, the "Great Awakenings" as described by historians. They waxed and waned. The present fervor will wane, too. The good signs are that many Americans have become skeptical of organized religion, and that some 20% of us now are open about being non-believers, non-theists, atheists, humanists; and more who come from non-Christian traditions.