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Prayer in School: The Case That 'Kicked God Out of the Schools'

Image: Prayer in School: The Case That 'Kicked God Out of the Schools'
Photo illustration, side view of a school bus and its stop signal with isolated silhouetted boy child gesture and activity praying. (dreamstime)

By    |   Sunday, 02 Nov 2014 04:15 PM

Although numerous court cases have determined the country’s stance on prayer in schools, one specific case is often cited as the case that took prayer out of schools.

On June 25, 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that based on the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment that the government can’t sponsor a prayer and require schoolchildren to say it.

ALERT: Should Prayer Be Allowed in Public Schools? Vote Now

“Public outrage was immediate and widespread. For millions of Americans, the Court had ‘kicked God out of the schools,’ to use a phrase that has entered the culture-war lexicon,” the First Amendment Center said.

According to a Cornell Law summary of the case, it involved a New Hyde Park, New York, school district, which directed the district schools to use the following prayer, to be said aloud by each student, along with the teacher:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

The parents of 10 students in the district filed action in New York State Court saying that the prayer was contrary to their beliefs and practices. The parents argued that the use of public prayer in schools violated "that part of the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution which commands that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion' — a command which was 'made applicable to the State of New York by the Fourteenth Amendment of the said Constitution,'" the lawsuit said.

The case ended up before the Supreme Court, where it was ruled 6-1 that forcing the students to recite the prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

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“It is a matter of history that this very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America,” wrote Justice Hugo Black in the majority opinion. “By the time of the adoption of the Constitution, our history shows that there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State. These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the greatest dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government's placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services. “

Although the prayer didn’t amount to a total establishment of one particular religious sect to the exclusion of all others, the opinion said, “it may be appropriate to say in the words of James Madison, the author of the First Amendment: ‘[I]t is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. . . . Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?’”

Just one Supreme Court voice spoke out in dissent of the majority rule. Justice Potter Stewart wrote, “With all respect, 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.”

URGENT: Should Students Be Allowed to Pray in Public Schools? Vote Here Now!

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Although numerous court cases have determined the country's stance on prayer in schools, one specific case is often cited as the case that took prayer out of schools.
prayer, in, school, case, kicked, god, out
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2014-15-02
Sunday, 02 Nov 2014 04:15 PM
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