Compulsory chapel is a phrase used in reference to a college or prep school. It refers to a requirement that students attend religious services regularly, as a condition of their continued enrollment.
Most of the famous older colleges and prep schools in the United States originated as Protestant institutions. They were modelled on British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which were institutions of the Church of England. Six of the eight schools of the Ivy League—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown were clearly Protestant in nature. Through the middle of the 1800s, compulsory chapel was a given at most of these schools, as it was at the service academies (West Point, Annapolis, and, when founded in 1955, the Air Force Academy).
The American Civil War and the transcontinental railroad brought cultural change to the United States, and the Morrill Act sparked a wave of establishment of non-sectarian public universities. From about 1860 through the 1950s, compulsory chapel at the private Ivy League schools began to be challenged. One after another, they abolished it. "Godless Harvard" was first. Under the presidency of Unitarian Charles W. Eliot—with the support the famous Episcopalian minister Phillips Brooks—Harvard abolished compulsory chapel in 1889. In the Ivy League, Princeton held on the longest, abolishing it in 1962.
Compulsory chapel continued at the service academies through the early 1970s, when it was abolished pursuant to court decisions, by West Point in 1972, Annapolis in 1972, and the Air Force Academy in 1973
Compulsory chapel continues to be common at smaller schools with strong ties to evangelical Protestant denominations.
Notes and references
- An epithet first levelled by George Whitefield c. 1740
- Harvard's Secularization, from The Harvard Crimson
- Vita: Phillips Brooks, The Harvard Magazine
- The University Chapel, Princeton website
- USMA Bicentennial History, USMA website
- A Brief History of the United States Naval Academy, USNA website
- E.g. Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts, according to Kyle Alspach, (2005), "What I Learned From Nazarene Life," The Boston Globe, July 31, 2005, Globe South p. 4; at Oral Roberts University (twice a week)Oral Roberts University catalog (pdf)