Supreme Court Case: Engel v. Vitale Analysis
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SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION
A. According to the First Amendment, the enactment of any law establishing a religion is prohibited. Under the supervision of the Constitution, Congress cannot interfere with the freedom of religion; however, the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow the states (or their officials) to limit the basic rights of all citizens.
B. In the case of Engel v. Vitale, the Board of Regents for the State of New York approved a short, voluntary prayer to be recited at the start of school each day. A group of parents whose children attended the School District disagreed with this religious practice and argued that the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violates the “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment.
C. In the opinion of the children’s parents, the “use of the official prayer in the public school was contrary to the beliefs, religions, or religious practices of both themselves and their children” (“Engel v. Vitale”). The parents aimed to challenge the constitutionality of the School District’s authorization of the use of prayer in public schools. In the eyes of the New York State Board of Regents, the prayer was a “Statement on Moral and Spiritual Training in the Schools” (“Engel v. Vitale”). The state officials declared that the “statement will be subscribed to by all men and women of good will, and [they] call upon all of them to aid in giving life to [the] program” (“Supreme Court Collection”).
D. The court case of Engel v. Vitale originated in the state of New York, and was brought to the attention of a New York State Court by the malcontented parents of their children enrolled in the public school system. Reasoning behind the case being sustained within the state of New York rests as it was the place of origin as well as it was, in fact, the School District of New York under inquiry. After the confrontation, the New York Court of Appeals had approved the lower state courts which had supported New York’s power to use the daily prayer in public schools so long as the students were not required to join in the prayer.
SECTION 2: FACTS
A. Initially, the case that became known as Engel v. Vitale began as a lawsuit in 1958. Steven I. Engel was one of the five parents of students from the small suburb of New Hyde Park, Long Island who believed that the prayer was composed of religious nature and abused the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. William J. Vitale, Jr. was a member of the opposing side, in favor of the nondenominational prayer. In the early 1950’s, the New York State Board of Regents composed a prayer to be spoken aloud by the class under the supervision of a teacher at the start of each school day. Regularly, the prayer was read as follows: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country.” Under the belief that “history of man is inseparable from the history of religion” (“Engel v. Vitale”), the Board of Regents were hoping to establish moral and spiritual guidance in the schools. Nevertheless, the prayer was still made voluntary to students. In the case that a pupil did not wish to recite the prayer, they may remain silent or be excused from the room. In 1962, however, the Supreme Court concluded that the state-sponsored prayer in New York public schools was unconstitutional as it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
SECTION 3: MAJORITY OPINION
A. There is a profound majority in the case of Engel v. Vitale. The group consists of citizens of New York (the parents of the children attending public schools), a variety of administrative officials, as well as the founding fathers. This majority believes that the prayer authorized by the New York Regents not only violates the First Amendment but was offensive to parents and pupils of other religions. As a concurring opinion, some are under the impression that the prayer was composed as part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs, (“Legal Encyclopedia”) and was being forced upon unwilling students.
B. As written by Justice Hugo Black in 1962, “The religious nature of prayer was recognized by Jefferson, and has been concurred in by theological writers, the United States Supreme court, and State courts and administrative officials, including New York’s Commissioner of Education. A committee of the New York legislature has agreed” (“Engel v. Vitale”). Proving that the Regents’ prayer was plainly religious, the authorization and use of the prayer in public schools was and still is illegal as established by the First Amendment and reinstated by the Fourteenth Amendment.
C. Many Americans are aware of the dangers of uniting Church and State. Among these concerns include the mixing of religion and schooling. In a matter of history, according to the Book of Common Prayer (approved by Acts of Parliament), religious services were to be carried out in Church. In addition, although the prayer was voluntary, the schools did not mandate safeguards for children placed under pressure or embarrassments if they chose not to participate.
SECTION 4: DISSENTING OPINION
A. The dissenting group of Engel v. Vitale is made of the New York State Board of Regents (established by the State Constitution and granted legislative powers by the New York Legislature), and the New York public schools system. Under the belief that “history of man is inseparable from the history of religion” (“Engel v. Vitale”), local school boards of New York allowed the prayer to be said at the opening of each school day. Officials from the Board of Regents claim that they composed the prayer as a plan of “moral education” (“Legal Encyclopedia”). Mr. Justice Stewart expresses that the prayer was made completely optional for all pupils, as “those who object to reciting the prayer must be entirely free of any compulsion to do so” (“Supreme Court Collection”).
B. On a legal basis, the dissenting opinion of Engel v. Vitale does not believe that the prayer established an official religion. Also, because the prayer was made wholly voluntary, the school board allowed it to be spoken each day. In sum, the Board of Regents as well as the school district agreed that the prayer was denominationally neutral and completely legal.
C. In consideration of our nations’ traditions, Justice Stewart explains that the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag contains the words “one Nation under God…” What’s more, Stewart calls attention to our nations’ currency, stating that “since 1865, the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” have been impressed on our coins” (“Supreme Court Collection”).
SECTION 5: CONCLUSION
A. “How would you rule on this case?” Frankly, I really did have to think in order to answer this question. After consideration, I believe that the Supreme Court Case of Engel v. Vitale should be ruled in favor of the majority. Although I agreed with the opinions expressed by the majority, I also felt that the prayer was unethical and not suitable for classrooms.
B. It is obvious that the prayer holds religious content, which qualifies it as unconstitutional. I consider this content to be offensive, particularly to people who have different beliefs. If there were students whose religion(s) differed from those expressed in the prayer and they chose not to participate, they may be faced with uncomfortable questions or ridicule. Use of the prayer was concluded illegal by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The constitution defends our Freedom of Religion, and under the influence of this prayer, I do not feel that it protects the students. I think that there should be a definite line between religion and schooling, and public schools should be kept free of all religious activity. I believe this prayer is clearly illegal and immoral.