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Removing Prayer from Public Schools: Engel v Vitale

July 27th, 2011

In ruling in favor of Engel, the Supreme Court effectively removed sponsored prayer from public schools in Engel v Vitale.

Legal Case, School Prayer, ULC Case Law

Children Praying in Classroom

In 1962, the US Supreme Court Ruled that prayer in public school was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The Establishment Clause was enacted to prevent any government endorsement of any particular religion. As this country was originally settled so Puritans would be able to avoid religious persecution, the tradition of secular government was upheld by Justice Hugo Black and six other Supreme Court justices.

There was one dissenting vote which made the decision 6-1 in favor of removing sponsored prayer from school, even if it was nondenominational and students were allowed to step out of the room.

The legal battle began when a group of parents from New York, Engel, sued over the sponsored prayers led by teachers and school officials every morning. In a decision that many consider the beginning of moral decline, and others a benchmark in the separation of church and state, the practice of reciting prayer every morning in public school was made illegal.

The prayer in question was: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”

The majority opinion in Engel v Vitale by Justice Hugo Black “The petitioners contend… that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause… We agree with this contention since we think that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”

The dissenting opinion “I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an “official religion” is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.”

Since the case has handed down its decision, the nation has been arguing back and forth over the removal of prayer in school. Many argue that the moral fabric of the nation has eroded while others cite those arguments as false causalities.


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