Engel vs Vitale: Overview and Information
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Extra, local families win the court case against the school board; they have successfully sued the school! This case went all the way to the Supreme Court because of one main question: “Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment?”(Oyez, 2018).
New York City 1962, school starts everyday the exact same. Every morning the students are encouraged to say the pledge of Allegiance and a nondenominational prayer due to state law. This prayer states “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on thee and beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.” There is nothing wrong if the students say their prayers on their own time, or if a group of students gather together before school and pray.
The only problem is that if the state itself requires time in school for prayer then that would be unconstitutional. In the state of New York during this time many immigrants fleeing from their countries land on port called Ellis Island. In the late 1900s most of these immigrants coming to America were from a Jewish decent. They were ruffley 16 percent of 200,000 incoming immigrants. A Jewish man named Steven Engel had a son that attended this school and felt that it was wrong of the school to make them say a prayer. Steven lived in New Hyde park along with some other Jewish families that have kids at the same school. Steven argued that even though the children were allowed to not participate in the prayer, many students would still participate to avoid being bullied by the other students.
Steven also stated that it was very unlikely that the children would go against their teachers and say they felt uncomfortable by engaging in prayer. This prayer was written by the school board, Mr. William Vitale. Steven led all the other parents in protest to sue the school board for going against the first amendment. Over all, the first Amendment states that American citizens have a right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Before the case got to the Supreme Court it had to go through the states court. The New York Supreme Court looked at the case and realized it in fact did not go against the first Amendment. The Courts then added that the state was not implying any certain religious beliefs by utilizing this prayer. Some of the defendants in this case said that since nobody was actually making the students participate, and it was optional, that if did not disobey the First Amendment.
On the counterarguments side, many parents stated all the terrible things that happened to previous governments in the past that forced a certain religion on their people. Terror, protests, rebellions all happened when people are forced to practice a certain way. The parents also added that since there are so many different religions in America and America is known as the “melting pot of people”, that no established religion. Once this case became more known around the state many organizations that were in favor of the parents took action. “The American Jewish Committee and the Synagogue Council of America supporting the lawsuit, which sought to remove the prayer requirement.”(ThoughtCo 2018). The case made it to the Supreme Court in 1962.
When the Supreme Court looked at this case, one of the judges named Justice Hugo Black stated that having the word God in the prayer is not fair to other religions because not every religion has a God or a religion might have multiple Gods. The Court expressed that by having New York make their own prayer, they would be quote on quote choosing the kids religious beliefs instead of letting them express their own. Then the Court looked at the bigger picture and thought that not only New York but any government in America does not have the authority to choose someone’s government or favor a certain religion. Financial aid was a concern for the Court too. Justice Douglas knew that by giving financial aid to a private religious school that could be considered favoritism. To answer the question Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment “(Oyez, 2018), the Supreme Court said yes.