Official Details Engel v. Vitale – 1962 Heard on April 3 rd, 1962 Ruled on June 25 th, 1962
History. Basically, after world war 2 the country was in a fear of the spread of communism, and people tried to promote patriotism. Schools in New York participated in this by establishing a prayer that was optional to say at the beginning of every school day. The school board said that the prayer made kids have good moral character, good patriotism, and better citizenship qualities.
The Case Ten parents of students in a New York school, including Steven Engel, filed a lawsuit against the school board president, William Vitale. The Parents thought that the prayer was against the Establishment Clause of the 1 st amendment
The Prayer “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”
Public Policy There has been religion in schools before this, just not officially. Kids would be able to pray and practice religion and some classes said prayers. There is a “wall” between religion and schools, this case just determined how high this “wall” was. Kids today are allowed to practice their religion, its just that the school board can not influence it.
Plaintiff’s arguments The prayer was unconstitutional It was against the Establishment clause of the 1 st amendment The separation of church and government required that government stay out of religion completely The prayer should be banned Time should not be taken out of the school day to say a religious prayer.
Defendant’s Arguments The US government did not establish a religion by making a nondenominational prayer A lot of religious elements are associated with government and the officials that reflects the religious heritage of the nation New York acted constitutionally by providing a prayer that was not required to say
Amicus Curiae Briefs Means “Friend to the court” in Latin Many third parties filed briefs to the case. 22 attorney generals from different states filed briefs supporting Vitale in his case, and 3 gave oral arguments. Then again, The American Ethical Union, the American Jewish Committee, and the Synagogue Council of America all argued for Steven Engel, and opposing the Regent’s prayer.
Decision The court decided to rule in favor of Engel, with a 6-1 majority, with 2 justices not participating. They ruled that the prayer was completely unconstitutional, and totally against the Establishment Clause of the first amendment.
Decision Reasoning behind the 6 vote “We think that by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents' Prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York's program of daily classroom invocation of God's blessings…in the Regents' Prayer is a religious activity…” “When the power, prestige and financial support of government are placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion is plain…. The Establishment Clause thus stands as an expression of principle on the part of the Founders of our Constitution that religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy, to permit its 'unhallowed perversion' by a civil magistrate.”
Decision Reason behind the 1 vote Stewart wrote that he thought the other justices were wrong. He said that he does not see how allowing a completely optional prayer for a school is unconstitutional. He also said that “IN GOD WE TRUST” being printed on coins since 1865 has never been challenged. And “ONE NATION, UNDER GOD” in the pledge of allegiance. This is a great example of his argument, along with other references to god in our country. He said that it is clearly stated that the prayer was optional, and that it is no different than the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on our coins.
Precedent Was the first case that set the precedent that government sponsored prayers is a violation of the Establishment Clause
Long Term Effects Since this case most schools have not challenged the walls of church and school/government. They know what the outcome will be if they do.