Chance to visit with Jim McCollum of FAMED SUPREME COURT CASE!!!!


During the last twenty years it has been my practice to visit in person with those that don’t agree with my political or religious views and just try to get to know them. Back in 1996 while on a family trip to  New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Delaware, and New Jersey,  we had dinner one night with Herbert A. Tonne, who was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto II. While in Missouri several years ago I got to spend a couple of hours with the former Unitarian minister Lester Mondale and his wife at their cabin.

Several of these meetings led to longtime friendships. The Late Professor John George who has written books for Prometheus Press (a secular humanist group) was my good friend during the last 10 years of his life. (I still miss him today.) We often ate together and were constantly talking on the phone and writing letters to one another. Ed Babinski, the author of LEAVING THE FOLD, has corresponded with me for almost 20 years now, and that goes also for evolutionist Kevin Henke.

On August 7, 2014 I was able to meet another signer of the Humanist Manifesto II, and I must say it we had a delightful time.  I got to visit with Jim and Betty Grace  McCollum, and I gave them a tour of Little Rock Broom Works and how we make brooms and mops. Jim said he really enjoyed visiting manufacturing plants and learning how products were made. As you see below Jim is wearing a Southern Arkansas University shirt where he furthering his education. After living in Rochester, New York for 34 years and practicing law, he moved to Arkansas in 1994. They have been living in Emerson, Arkansas ever since. Below you can see pictured from left to right: Betty Grace and Jim McCollum, Everette Hatcher, and Wilson Hatcher.

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 Jim’s mother was  Vashti McCollum, a housewife who later became president of the American Humanist Association. Her U.S. Supreme Court victory in McCollum v. Board of Education established that American public schools must be religiously neutral. I mentioned to Jim that I have visited with Lester Mondale at his cabin in Missouri and he pointed out that Lester was the only living signer of Humanist Manifesto I until his death several years ago.
Vashti Cromwell MCCollum                                                    1912 – 2006

Vashti Ruth Cromwell, named for the queen of Ahasuerus in the first book of Esther who was one of the few biblical women to stand up for women’s rights, was born in Lyons, New York on 6 November 1912 to Arthur G. and Ruth C. Cromwell. She was raised in Rochester, New York and after graduation from a public high school, attended Cornell University on a full tuition scholarship until the market crash of ’29. Transferring to the University of Illinois, she eventually obtained her AB in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1944 and MS in Mass Communications in 1957, after interruptions for marriage and children.

After arriving in Champaign-Urbana to attend the U of I, she met Dr. John P. MCCollum, a staff member, whom she married in 1933. Their three sons all graduated from college with at least one degree. James Terry, the oldest, went on to obtain a JD from the U of I College of Law and practiced law in Rochester, New York for nearly 34 years until his retirement in 1994. Dannel obtained an MS in History from the U of I and was the longest serving mayor of Champaign, Illinois, serving three terms. Errol Cromwell, after obtaining his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Illinois University, eventually established a chain of bicycle stores along with a partner and was actively engaged in that enterprise until his retirement in 1996. All three remain active in other pursuits.

Vashti was to live up to her namesake when she and her oldest son, Jim, were confronted with pressure to enroll him in a Christian Sunday school type class that was being offered in the public schools of Champaign during school hours. Resisting the pressure at first, she and her husband eventually relented and allowed Jim to attend the classes the balance his 4th grade year. However, the following year, the MCCollums, feeling that such a program was totally inappropriate in the public schools, refused further participation. This, of course, resulted in Jim taking heat from his peers and suffering some indignities at the hands of his unenlightened 5th grade teacher.

After unrequited attempts to have the program discontinued administratively and after much soul searching, with the aid and support of the Rev. Phillip Schug, the Unitarian minister in town, and with financial assistance from a group of Jewish businessmen in Chicago, she filed a writ of mandamus in the Champaign County Circuit Court in the late summer of 1945. At this point things really became rough for the MCCollums, ranging from physical confrontations between Jim and his peers, to vandalism of their home, to attempts at terminating Prof. MCCollum’s employment at the university. Fortunately, for Dr. MCCollum, his tenured status secured his position with the university. However, Vashti’s employment as an adjunct instructor in the women’s physical education program, was terminated.

The three judge panel, sitting to hear the case in the Circuit Court, decided that, in spite of the clear language in the Illinois constitution to the contrary, the practice violated neither it nor the establishment of religion clause of the 1st Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the lower court and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari in the fall of 1947. 50 years ago, on 9 March 1948, the US Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the Peo. of the State of Illinois, ex rel MCCollum -v- Board of Education, 333 US 203 (1948), in a decision, written by Justice Hugo L. Black, that was to become a landmark case in U.S. constitutional law. The significance of the decision was that it was the first case of impression that held the several states accountable to the strictures of the establishment of religion clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under the aegis of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. All cases, involving school prayers, aid to parochial schools, sectarian religious displays on public property and other such incursions into Jefferson’s wall of “separation of church and state” by the states and their municipalities, descend from this case.

As in any such case and particularly in this one, because of the MCCarthyistic mood of the late 40’s and 50’s, when Communism was considered the scourge of humanity and atheists were considered by many as either Communists or fellow travelers, this case took its toll on Mrs. MCCollum and her family. However, she was resolute, as was her namesake in the Bible, and persisted, despite disappointing losses in the lower courts, until she finally triumphed with her decisive 8 to 1 victory in the high court. For the results of this case alone, if not for her courage and perseverance, she deserves recognition in the annals of U.S. constitutional law.

Among the awards and recognition accorded her in subsequent years were the prestigious John Haynes Holmes Award (now the Holmes-Weatherly Award) from the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice, the second person to be so honored. Other recipients were Whitney Young, Roger Baldwin and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. She also has received recognition from the Illinois ACLU, the Champaign County Chapter of the Illinois ACLU, the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the Illinois ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Rochester, New York Chapter of Americans United, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association.

Vashti MCCollum, this gutsy lady who wouldn’t let sectarian special interests take over the public schools, finally passed on to her rewards on 20 August 2006, 7 weeks prior to her 94th Birthday.  The legacy she left behind in the field of U S constitutional law will not soon be forgotten.

A book, written by Mrs. MCCollum about the circumstances of the case, entitled “One Woman’s Fight”, has been reprinted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and can be obtained from them.

VTS 01 3 (part 3)


About the Program


She was called “that awful woman” by her neighbors, and “that atheist mother” by newspapers across the country. Her friends stopped returning phone calls rather than risk speaking with her. She was branded a communist, and the Illinois State Legislature nearly outlawed her and her husband from ever working at the state university again. She received up to 200 letters a day, some of the writers claiming they would pray for her; many wishing for much worse.

body_the-lord-trial_1.jpgVashti McCollum and her son Jim look over her lawsuit.The Champaign News-Gazette

All because, in 1945, Vashti McCollum would file a historic lawsuit that would forever change the relationship between religion and public school in America – and turn this young housewife from central Illinois into an unlikely champion of the separation of church and state.

In 1940, the Champaign, Illinois public school district instituted a voluntary religion class in its grade schools, something that was being done in school districts across the country. Vashti McCollum initially didn’t allow her oldest son, 10 year old Jim, permission to take the religion class. She believed religion was a personal matter, and not one for the schools, but after persistent begging by Jim, she finally relented. Then she saw the materials being used in the class. “It was indoctrination into the old Christian faith,” she remembered. “So I said never again.”

So Jim sat out the class, but he was the only one in his classroom who didn’t have permission to take the religion class. Not knowing what to do with Jim during the time of religion class, the teacher sat him in a desk in the hall, the same place kids were placed when they were punished. Jim suffered brutal bullying as a result and came home in tears. Vashti McCollum decided that was enough. “Never again,” Mrs. McCollum remembered, still angry, “would he be put in the hall.” So she sued the Champaign school district to put a stop to the religion class, beginning a three-year odyssey that would change American public schools forever.

The Lord is Not On Trial Here Today is a Peabody Award-winning documentary that tells the compelling personal story of Vashti McCollum, and how her efforts to protect her ten year-old son led to one of the most important and landmark First Amendment cases in U.S. Supreme Court history — the case that established the separation of church and state in public schools. The case is little-known by the contemporary American public, yet the McCollum decision continues to have important ramifications for current conflicts over the role of religion in public institutions – from displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings to student-led prayers at public school graduation ceremonies.

The film recounts what Vashti McCollum later described as “three years of headlines, headaches, and hatred,” and the dramatic legal maneuverings that led to a decision that shocked the nation and made the McCollums a household name. “Beautifully researched” according to the Peabody Awards, perhaps one reviewer says it best: “The Lord is Not On Trial Here Today [tells] a little-known story of a woman, a court case, and a movement that changed American society forever.”

The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today is written, produced, and directed by Jay Rosenstein.  Edited by Jude Leak. Music by Wendy Blackstone. Narration by former M*A*S*Htelevision actor David Ogden Stiers.

To learn more about the McCollum case, read Dan McCollum’s book, The Lord Was Not On Trial and Vashti McCollum’s book, One Woman’s Fight. Learn more about the First Amendment at the First Amendment Center.

To learn more about director Jay Rosenstein’s documentaries, visit

Part 1

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Airlight Broom Prop


Vashti Ruth Cromwell, named for the queen of Ahasuerus in the first book of Esther who was one of the few biblical women to stand up for women’s rights,

Here is the Biblical passage about Queen Vashti:

Esther 1-3New International Version (NIV)

Queen Vashti Deposed

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times 14 and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven noblesof Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.

15 “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”

16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.

19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”

21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.


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