Ellery Schempp

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Ellery Schempp
Ellery Schempp in 2012.
Ellery Schempp in 2012
Born (1940-08-05) August 5, 1940 (age 74)
Philadelphia, PA

Ellery Schempp (born Ellory Schempp, August 5, 1940) is an accomplished physicist and is also famous for being the primary student involved in the landmark 1963 United States Supreme Court case of Abington School District v. Schempp which declared that required public-school-sanctioned Bible readings were unconstitutional.


Ellery was born in Philadelphia, but grew up in the Roslyn community of Abington Township. He graduated from Abington High School in 1958, and attended Tufts University where he earned bachelor degrees in physics and geology. In 1967, Ellery received his Ph.D. in physics from Brown University.

In 1980 Ellery officially changed his name from "Ellory" to "Ellery" citing constant confusions with the name "Elroy" and the historical precedence of the spelling "Ellery".

Ellery Schempp currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts. As of fall 2008, he teaches a class on the separation of church and state at Tufts' Experimental College.[1]

Stephen D. Solomon, professor at New York University, has written a book about Ellery and the Supreme Court case that he was involved in entitled Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer (University of Michigan Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-472-10837-4).


On November 26, 1956, Ellery staged a protest against the school requirement that each student read 10 Bible passages and the Lord's Prayer each day during homeroom. Instead, Ellery brought a copy of the Qur'an and read from that. For this, he was sent to the Principal's office. With the help of his father, Edward Schempp, and the American Civil Liberties Union, they sued the Abington School district over their policy of mandatory Bible readings.[2]

Over several years, Ellery, his father, and later his younger siblings Roger and Donna continued to fight this policy in the courts. The Schempps were Unitarian Universalists, a theologically liberal religious community. The case was eventually decided in Ellery's favor by the Supreme Court in 1963, five years after he had graduated from high school.

Ellery considers himself to be an atheist[2] but supports the Unitarian Universalist organizations and is a strong supporter of the ACLU and of the separation of church and state. He is a popular speaker at Unitarian Universalist and Secular Humanist meetings, where he speaks about his landmark protest as well as the current state of democracy, the constitution, and the bill of rights.

Ellery is a member of the American Humanist Association and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In 1996, he received the Religious Liberty Award from Americans United. He is on the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America.[3]


Dr. Schempp's doctoral thesis was entitled Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance in Nitrogen Heterocycles. This work was the precursor to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which he continued to work on for a substantial portion of his career.

Dr. Schempp has held the following positions:

In 1977, Dr. Schempp was part of the Pittsburgh Explorer’s Group Nanga Parbat Expedition which was to be the first American group to reach the peak of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.

In 2002, Dr. Schempp was elected to Abington Senior High School's hall of fame for his accomplishments in physics. His involvement in the court case was not mentioned in his acceptance speech except that he opened with the line, "I never thought they'd invite me back here."


  1. ^ "Tufts Experimental College: Current Courses". Retrieved 2008-09-26. 
  2. ^ a b Bennett, Kitty (17 June 2011). "Ellery Schempp and the School Prayer Supreme Court Decision". AARP. Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Biography". Secular.org. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 

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