In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court, with its "Dixon Decision," bitterly divided the small rural community in northern New Mexico. A group of Protestants, led by a Presbyterian, had formed a school committee and in 1947 brought suit in state court against the Board of Education. Its concern: Catholic nuns wearing habits were teaching religion as part of the regular curriculum.
That was nothing new in New Mexico, where the first schools, long before statehood, were Catholic schools. From them, the later public schools pulled their first teachers.
The case made its way to the nation's high court, which relied on the constitutional separation of church and state to rule in favor of the Protestants, a decision that many at the time described as "wrenching" to Catholics.