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Banning prayer in public schools is unconstitutional

Ashley, Hopkins

Mr. Curinga
American History
1 April 2016

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Banning prayer in public school is unconstitutional


Before the banning of prayer in public schools in 1962, every morning before the regular
instruction began, there was a non- denominational prayer recited. The prayer went like this
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us,
our parents, our teachers and country. (Religion In public schools: Engel v. Vitale). The court
case School district of Abington Township, Pennsylvania vs. Schempp allowed students to be
excused from the room during the prayer. The reasoning behind this was so that the school
couldnt enforce a religion upon a student. The first amendment says: Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment or religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; abridging the
freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the government for the redress of grievances. (First Amendment). The reason why school prayer
was banned in public schools is not only because the Supreme Court banned it, but first there had
to be a case, and the case came from complaining parents. Although all the results of these court
cases say that prayer in schools is unconstitutional, the reality of it is that prayer in public
schools is constitutional based on the First Amendment. If prayer in public schools is
constitutional, then banning prayer in the public school system is unconstitutional.
The 1st Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or
the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of
grievances. (First Amendmenr). The Free exercise clause goes hand in hand with the 1st

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Amendment. The free exercise clause reserves the right of American citizens to accept any
religious belief and engage in religious rituals (Free Exercise Clause).
There are several court cases that involve school prayer. Engel vs. Vitale is one of the
court cases involving school prayer. This case was requested by Steven Engel and the result was
decided in 1962. This was started when Stephen Engel and four other parents (2 Jews, 1 Atheist,
1 Unitarian and 1 other Protestant) were displeased with the fact that their children were saying a
non-denominational prayer. The parents claimed that the prayer was contradicting their religious
beliefs and practices that they set for their family. Ironically a state court came to the conclusion
that the public schools could keep reciting the prayer as long as the students were not being
forced to recite it. The state court required that the schools to give any student that did not wish
to participate the freedom to remain silent or be dismissed from the classroom during the time of
prayer. (Religion in Public Schools: Engel v. Vitale). Although a state court said that the public
schools continue with prayer, as long as the students werent forced to participate, the Supreme
Court decided 6 to 1, that the reciting the prayer in school was going against the 1st Amendments
establishment clause (Engel v. Vitale).
Wallace, representing Alabama, vs Jaffree was to decide whether having a voluntary
moment of silence is unconstitutional. There were three parts to this Alabama law. One 1978
law authorized a period of silence at the beginning of the school day for mediation. In 1981, a
second law authorized that the time be used for meditation and voluntary prayer. Then in 1982,
the legislative authorized teachers to lead willing students in a state- written, prescribed prayer
to Almighty God the creator and Supreme Judge of the world. (Supreme court cases)
Jaffrees representative argued that the public schools were trying to bring back religion and by

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enforcing voluntary prayer in the school. Wallace was trying to prove that because it was
voluntary, it was constitutional. Unfortunately the court, in a 6to 3 decision decided that
Alabamas law was unconstitutional and they had to overturn the law for the moment of silence
or a time of meditation. (Wallace v. Jaffree- Case brief summary).
Lee vs Weisman was a court case that involves prayer but instead of being at school
during the school year, it was during graduation ceremony. Robert Lee was very irritated when a
Rabbi was asked to speak and pray at his daughters graduation. When it was taken to the court,
it was considered unconstitutional but by a close margin. It was a 5to 4 vote. It was partially
unconstitutional because it was forcing the students to be respectful not only to the Rabbi, but
also to God and religion. The decision was also based on the fact that the prayer may go against a
belief and cause a student to not go to their graduation. (Lee v. Weisman)
Santa Fe Independent District vs Doe was a debate on whether students leading prayer at
a football game was constitutional. This reminds me of the movie Wood lawn, which is based
on a true story of revival that took place in one of Alabamas high schools football teams. If you
have seen the movie, you know that it is also about racism. The part I would like to focus on is
the religious aspect instead. The Woodlawn football team had a revival and they began to pray at
their games. During the end of the season, the coach was told that if he continued to pray at the
football games, he would be fired. When the coach was getting ready to pray at one of the games,
the sound guys disconnected the mikes so the stadium couldnt hear him. The cool part is that
even though the mikes were disconnected, the rest of the stadium started to recite the Lords
prayer. If you have seen the movie, you would know that the coach got fired and worked at an

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insurance place. (New Faith-Based Sports Film, Woodlawn, Tells True Story of Entire
Alabama High School Football Team Coming to Christ During Desegregation In the 1970s)
Although this did not end up in a court case, like Santa Fe Independent School vs Doe, it
reminded me of the movie because they were both focused on prayer at public school football
game prayers. This case however ended with a 6 to 3 vote declaring it unconstitutional. (Santa Fe
Independent School District v. Doe)
Murray vs Curlett was a case involving a recited non-denominational prayer every
morning along with other religious things. Some of these include some scripture reading, only a
couple verses, and the pledge of allegiance. Madelyn OHair happened to be visiting her sons
school and realized that it was really quiet. Her son William explained to her that the pledge of
allegiance, scripture reading and a non- denominational prayer were a part of the morning
routine. When she found out, she screamed in the halls out of disgust. Before she appealed to the
Supreme Court she made sure that the whole world knew her opinion about the matter. During
the case, Justice Stewart said that if the state had a problem with it, it would be considered
unconstitutional, but if not, no harm was done (Murray 46). She had plenty of interviews and
newspaper articles that told all about her situation. In her case, all of the Medias attention was
worth it because it was considered unconstitutional. (Murray 1-74)
The prayer used in the public schools was Almighty God, we acknowledge our
dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and country.
(Religion in Public Schools: Engel v. Vitale). The amazing thing was that the students were
allowed to be excused if they so choose. Today in public schools, you are not supposed to pray,

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just live by the worlds standards. With the religion taken out of public schools, there have been
so many terrible things happening in the schools; for example: teen pregnancy, school shootings
and bulling. In Gods word, it says that this behavior is unacceptable, but in todays society, it
has been an accepted thing.
Those who won their cases would say that banning prayer in public school is a positive
thing. The reasoning would be that schools can no longer enforcing of the Lords Prayer or a
non- denominational prayer even though it was optional. You put it in perspective using the first
amendment, you may realize that banning prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional. The
first Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.
(First Amendment). As a citizen of the United States we are given the right to choose our religion
and the right to assemble peaceably. Prayer is a part of religion. I understand that not everyone
will agree on religion but as a citizen, we have the right to worship. In the cases Engel v. Vitale
or Murray vs. Curlett, they started because the parents believed that their children shouldnt be
forced to recite the non-denominational prayer. The reality of it is that before these cases, a state
court said that the schools could still recite the prayer as long as the students were not forced to
do it. In the court case Santa Fe Independent School district vs. Doe, the government took the
students rights of assembly in a way. The reason is that the students could pray together, which
could be considered assembly. Some people on the other hand think that public schools are for
getting an education not a chapel service. Some may also say that the schools should be kept
religious neutral. This means that religion shouldnt really be a part of the

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public school so that no specific person would feel offended by a religious activity. (The case
Against School Prayer). According to James Madisons tenth Federalist letter, the Constitution
may not be upheld to the fullest extent because we let the opinions of the minority take a huge
step toward losing the freedoms the majority has. (The Federalist Papers)
Based on the First Amendment, banning prayer in public schools is unconstitutional.
Although the Supreme Court decided that prayers were unconstitutional, the reality of it is that
because they banned prayer from public schools and its activities, they are really not giving us all
of our constitutional rights. The main parts that they are taking away from us, based on the First
Amendment are: the freedom of religion and assembly.

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Works cited
The Case Against School Prayer. Freedom From Religion Foundation. 1995. ffrf.org. Web.
31 March 2016.
Engel v. Vitale. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31 March
2016.
The Federalist Papers. Congress.Gov Resources. Congress.gov. n.d. Web. 10 April 2016
First Amendment. Cornell University Law School. n.d. law.cornell.edu. Web. 31 March
2016.
Free Exercise Clause. Cornell University Law School. n.d. law.cornell.edu. Web. 31 March
2016.

Lee v. Weisman. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31 March
2016.
Murray, William J. Let us pray: a Plea for Prayer in our Public Schools. New York, New York:
K&N Bookworks, 1995. Print.
New Faith-Based Sports Film, Woodlawn, Tells True Story of Entire Alabama High School
Football Team Coming to Christ During Desegregation In the 1970s. Black Christian
News Network. 2016. blackchristiannews.Com. web. 31 March 2016.
Religion in Public Schools: Engel v. Vitale. Digital History. 2016. digitalhistory.uh.edu.
Web. 31 March 2016.
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016.
oyez.org. Web. 31 March 2016.
Supreme Court Cases. Pearson Prentice Hall. n.d. phschool.com. Web. 31 March 2016.
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Wallace v. Jaffree. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31
March 2016.
Wallace v. Jaffree- Case Brief Summary. Lawnix. 2008- 2015. lawnix.com. Web. 31 March
2016.

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Bibliography

The Case Against School Prayer. Freedom From Religion Foundation. 1995. ffrf.org. Web.
31 March 2016.
Chilson, Morgan. Prayer in schools: 6 cases Supreme Court Has Ruled On. Newsmax Media.
28 Oct. 2014. newmax.com. Web. 31 March 2016.
Elliot, Christopher N. Federalism and Religious Liberty: Were Church And State Meant To Be
Separate? Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion. Freerepublic.com. 2000- 2008.
10 April 2016.
Engel v. Vitale. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31 March
2016.
The Federalist Papers. Congress.Gov Resources. Congress.gov. n.d. Web. 10 April 2016
First Amendment. Cornell University Law School. n.d. law.cornell.edu. Web. 31 March
2016.
Free Exercise Clause. Cornell University Law School. n.d. law.cornell.edu. Web. 31 March
2016.
Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992). First Amendment Schools. 2006. firstamendmentschools.org. Web. 31 March 2016.
Lee v. Weisman. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31 March
2016.
Murray, William J. Let us pray: a Plea for Prayer in our Public Schools. New York, New York:
K&N Bookworks, 1995. Print.
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New Faith-Based Sports Film, Woodlawn, Tells True Story of Entire Alabama High School
Football Team Coming to Christ During Desegregation In the 1970s. Black Christian
News Network. 2016. blackchristiannews.com. Web. 31 March 2016.
Prayer And the Public Schools, Religion, Education & Your Rights. Americans United for
Separation of Church and State. 2016. au.org. Web. 31 March 2016.
Religion in Public Schools: Engel v. Vitale. Digital History. 2016. digitalhistory.uh.edu.
Web. 31 March 2016.
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016.
oyez.org. Web. 31 March 2016.
Supreme Court Cases. Pearson Prentice Hall. n.d. phschool.com. Web. 31 March 2016.

Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985). First Amendment Schools. 2006. firstamendmentschools.org. Web. 31 March 2016.
Wallace v. Jaffree. IIT Chicago- Kent College of Law. 5 April 2016. oyez.org. Web. 31
March 2016.
Wallace v. Jaffree- Case Brief Summary. Lawnix. 2008- 2015. lawnix.com. Web. 31 March
2016.