Engel v. Vitale
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

I. The facts.
Prayer written by New York State Board of Regents was prescribed to all public school children.

II. Issue.
Can a State prescribe a "non-denominational" prayer under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

III. Holding. No.

IV. Reasoning. (Black, J.) 
A.  Historical- Founders left England in pursuit of freedom of religion.  It is a sad fact that they set up their own persecuting states.  In Virginia, (Virginia Bill of Religious Liberty) they saw the light and made an effort to separate church and state.
B.  Original intent- Establishing a prayer for schools is the very essence of establishment.  It does not matter that the practice is not "coercive."  This decision does not turn on coercion, even though subtle coercion may exist.
C.  Consequential- He makes a sort of slippery slope argument.  Governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand.  Therefore secularism is the only way to ensure true religious freedom.

V. Concurring/Dissenting Opinions.
A.  Concurring (Douglas) - It is particularly important that governments do not finance religion.
B.  Dissenting (Stewart) - "non prefernetialist" - it is ok to support religion and prayer over non religion, but the Establishment Clause forbids aid to any sect in particular.  You can't prefer one sect over another. 
            1.  Ethos- A spiritual heritage of the nation exists.
            2.  Original intent- Prayer has been incorporated into government speeches and actions since the founding.  The founders who ratified the Bill of Rights also incorporated prayer into their public actions, therefore they thought government run prayer was consistent with the First Amendment.  Examples of the use of religious reference in government action include: the Court ("God save..." recited every day), money ("In God we trust"), and the National Anthem.

VI. Significance.
States cannot create a "non-denominational" prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools, because that would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

  • No labels