Engel v. Vitale

By Peyton Goldsmith

Basic Facts

The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day. This was an attempt to defuse the politically potent issue by taking it out of the hands of local communities. The blandest of invocations read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."

Issue Before the Court

Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?
Engel v. Vitale (1962)


Establishment Clause: This was the first in a series of cases in which the Court used the establishment clause to eliminate religious activities of all sorts, which had traditionally been a part of public ceremonies.

Incorporation: This relates to the states having to abide by the US Constitution's Bill of Rights in order to protect the people's rights.

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Historic Significance

  • The decision was unpopular with many Americans and led to many other cases regarding the same issue. Some administrators tended to take it too far and ban religion almost completely from the school whereas others practiced civil disobedience and continued holding prayer at the beginning of school days.

Current Significance

  • People are still upset at the decision today, but the decisions is still upheld in schools across the US.
  • Example: Televangelists and politicians still take opportunities today to claim that public schools are “godless”.

Future Significance

  • This is still a controversial topic for many people in America. However, I believe the eyes of the court this is how it should be, and will not change due to the increasing diversity of our country.
  • Example: In future court cases regarding this issue, I believe the courts will rule in favor of not having religion in public school sanctions.
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Precedent Established

This case eliminated all religious activities as a part of school sanctions.