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National Council on Religion and Public Education Records

Call Number: RG 262

Scope and Contents

The Archives of the National Council on Religion and Public Education consist of 250 files, plus 30 issues of the journal, Religion and Public Education, in 26 archival boxes and about 13 linear feet of material. The NCRPE records date from 1971 to 1994, but there are many projects, programs and publications dealing with the relation between religion and public education before the NCRPE was founded. For example, there is a sampling of material in what was called “character education” in 1941, “moral and spiritual values” in the 1940s and 1950s, “released time” courses in biblical literature, “dual enrollment” or shared time, controversial issues such as tax support for non-public schools. In addition, there are the complete texts of U.S. Supreme Court decisions on released time, prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Included are some of the conferences in the 1960s which sought to respond to the Supreme Court rulings. These materials came from the files of Richard U. Smith, the first NCRPE executive director.

This collection completes and supplements Record Group No 74, which covered the development of the Religious Education Association from 1903 to 1982 (although the call to the founding convention was issued in 1902) and record Group No 74-A, which brings the organization’s records up to 2004 when it merged with the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education. Record Groups 154 and 154-A cover the history of the APRRE from 1970 to 2004. Both the R.E.A. and APRRE were organizational members of the NCRPE. It is very appropriate that these archives are stored at Yale, since the R.E.A. had its headquarters on the campus of Yale Divinity School from 1973 to 1997, and the General Secretary of the R.E.A., Boardman Kathan, was an alumnus. It is important to point out that there is some overlap and repetition in the files. Many came from the Editors and the Presidents and have not been precisely separated by categories.


  • 1971-1994


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Religious Education Association, 2014


  1. I. Early Developments
  2. II. Pre-NCRPE Programs
  3. III. History, Organization, and Policy
  4. IV. Committees and Board of Directors
  5. V. Secretarial Records and Correspondence
  6. VI. Annual Meetings
  7. VII. Publications
  8. VIII. Foundations, Finances, and Membership
  9. IX. Curriculum
  10. X. Other Organizations


13 Linear Feet (26 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


These archives present the best collection of materials in the United States on the subject of Religion and Public Education. Not only do they contain the records of the National Council on Religion and Public Education, 1971-1994, but of other parallel organizations in the field, such as the National Council of Churches, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Public Education Religion Studies Center of Wright State University. Included in the archives are the papers of the Rev. Richard U. Smith, an Episcopal priest, who was a pioneer in the field of weekday religious education and the first director of the NCRPE. The Religious Education Association took the leadership in organizing the NCRPE in 1971, but it was incorporated as a separate non-profit organization in 1973 under the laws of the state of New York.

Biographical / Historical

In 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Engel v. Vitale, that a prayer written by the New York State Board of Regents for use in schools was unconstitutional. The following year the high court declared, in two cases coming out of Pennsylvania and Maryland, that the reading of the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer in public schools were also unconstitutional. There were many efforts to amend the Constitution to permit prayer, and a number of organizations, institutions, pronouncements, and publications sought to respond to the decision, especially the dicta from Justice Tom Clark that the decision did not prohibit the objective study of religion as a part of a secular program of education.

Late in 1970 J. Blaine Fister of the National Council of Churches convened a meeting of representatives of the different organizations that were dealing with the subject, and he asked Boardman Kathan of the Religious Education Association to take the leadership in planning a larger consultation. A survey showed that the three issues that needed to be addressed were: curriculum development, teacher training and public awareness. A consultation was held on April 27, 1971, at the headquarters of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and was attended by 25 leaders. Presiding, besides Kathan, was Bernhard Olson of the NCCJ. Fister presented a background paper, and the main speaker was John Whitney, director of the Pennsylvania Religious Literature Course. The group voted to form a national coalition.

Plans were made for a two-day conference at the Statler-Hilton in New York City on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 1971. Kathan wrote a grant proposal and the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation awarded a total of $9,000 to the Religious Education Association. The R.E.A. added $5,400 to the project, along with a $3,000 “staff expansion fund,” that was received from St. Thomas Church in New York City. Richard U. Smith, an Episcopalian priest, was hired as the director of the project. Sixty people from over 40 organizations attended the conference. Three major addresses were featured in the Religious News Service: Philip Phenix of Columbia University Teacher’s College; Rabbi Arthur Gilbert, author of The Reader’s Bible; and Fr. William Tobin of the U.S. Catholic Conference. The group voted to form the National Council on Religion and Public Education. Kathan continued as Chairman of the Steering Committee, and Olson as Vice-chairman.

Grants from the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation and the General Service Foundation made it possible to publish the proceedings of the conference, edited by Smith, as Part 2 of the July-August 1972 issue of the journal, Religious Education. Included in the volume was a section on “Teacher Education and Curriculum Development,” with reports from Pennsylvania, Florida, Nebraska, California, Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Michigan. There was a list of suggested organizations to contact for further information and a Bibliography prepared by James V. Panoch of the Religious Instruction Association.

The first annual meeting of the NCRPE was held in 1972 at the Palmer House in Chicago and was attended by 120 persons. Delivering major addresses were Robert Michaelsen of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and John Whitney of Penn State University. Neil McCluskey succeeded Kathan as Chairman of the Steering Committee. Whitney recommended that the NCRPE become incorporated as a separate organization, rather than continue as a project of the R.E.A., and that the Steering Committee become a Board of Directors. This was done in 1953 under the laws of the state of New York. McCluskey was elected President and Smith continued as Executive Director until 1975.

Annual meetings were held, providing a forum and establishing a network of people involved in teacher training and curriculum development. In some years meetings were held with the National Council of Social Studies, the American Academy of Religion and other organizations. James Kirkpatrick of the American Association of School Administrators was an active member. An outstanding example of networking was the promotion of a world religions course developed by Wes Bodin and Lee Smith, two teachers in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Another example were the training courses at Indiana University taught by James Ackerman and Thayer Warshaw. Executive Directors who followed Smith were Nancy Fuchs as interim, Daryl Adrian of Ball State University, with Walter Horlander of the Indiana Council of Churches as his associate, Lynn Taylor of the University of Kansas, and Gerrit tenZythoff of Southwestern Missouri State University. Others who served as President were J. Blaine Fister of the NCC, James Wood of Baylor University, Wes Bodin, Nicholas Piediscalzi of Wright State University, Charles Haynes of George Mason University, and Austin Creel of the University of Florida.

A major accomplishment was the official publication of the Council. It started out in 1974 as a four-page newsletter, NCRPE Bulletin, edited by Donald Wimmer of Seton Hall University. By Spring 1976 it had become a 16-page booklet. From 1979 to 1982 it was edited by Thayer Warshaw, who had been a teacher at Newton North High School in Massachusett. Charles Kniker of Iowa State University took over as editor of the bulletin in 1983, but the following year the name of the journal was changed to Religion and Public Education, and included book reviews, curriculum and poetry in addition to news. In 1993 Charles Russo became editor-in-chief and the enterprise was moved to Webster University, St. Louis. After 1994 the journal was named Religion and Education.

The NCRPE distributed handbooks, lesson plans and other materials written or edited by Thayer Warshaw on the Bible as literature. One example was “Reviews of Curricular and Resource Materials.” Another was The Bible in Literature Course: Successful Lesson Plans, edited by Linda Meixner, an English teacher in Parma, Ohio. Under the leadership of Charles Haynes, the NCRPE distributed thousands of flyers with Questions and Answers on “Religious Holidays in the Public Schools” “Religion in the Public School Curriculum,” and “The Equal Access Act and the Public Schools.” A distribution center was set up at Iowa State University and was later moved to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There was an attempt at a newsletter in the early 1990s, with the help of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The NCRPE came to an end in 1994 because of a number of things: a dwindling number of organizational members; inadequate financial support; the parallel existence of the Public Education Religious Studies Center at Wright State University with generous funding and staff; energy and interest absorbed by a section of he American Academy of Religion; and the “disconnect” between similar studies in higher education and the world of tax-supported public schools. There was also the feeling that the NCRPE had accomplished its goals. Besides the renamed journal, the NCRPE left a distribution center at the University of California at Chico. The NCRPE had also provided advice and assistance to hundreds of school districts and thousands of teachers who wanted to provide their students with a “constitutionally sound” and “educationally appropriate” curriculum on teaching about religion. Charles Haynes has pointed out that after 1994 there have been other coalition efforts, even broader than those in the NCRPE era, that have found “common ground,” issued joint statements, and guidelines, and averted much controversy.
Guide to the National Council on Religion and Public Education Records
Boardman W. Kathan, assisted by Marilyn Wanek
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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