Arts > Not by the book

08 December 2016 | by D.J. Taylor

Not by the book


Despite its highly restricted format, Witness, in which Claire Bowes sits down to interrogate the survivors of significant moments in history, always packs in a great deal. And so, although complete in a bare 12 minutes, The US School Bible Controversy (30 November) offered a revealing gloss on that age-old paradox of American life: the fact that such a determinedly religious country should so zealously insist on the separation of Church and state.

As often happens in these cases, the person proving the point was not an embittered atheist but a paid-up Christian. Ellery Schempp, a “perfectly normal” teenage Unitarian attending Abington Senior High School in Penn- sylvania in the 1950s, became increasingly concerned by his school’s insistence on a practice known as “Morning Devotions”, in which students were obliged to listen to 10 arbitrarily selected verses of the King James Bible before joining in a rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.


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