Engel v. Vitale

1962 U.S. Supreme Court Case

Basic Information

Stephen Engel challenged the constitutionality of the Herricks School District in New York leading all students in saying a short prayer at the beginning of every school day.

Constitutional Reference at Issue

It was challenged that this prayer was a violation of the “establishment of religion” clause of the first amendment.

Precedent Established

The court agreed that it did violate the first amendment, so it was ruled unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. This established that public schools could not facilitate religious behavior.

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Historical Significance

This case was one of the first in a series of cases, many in the 1960s, in which a variety of religious activities sponsored by the government were found to violate the Establishment Clause.

Significance Today

This case still has visible effects today, as public schools all still adhere to the rulings of this case, with no religious activity being facilitated by the schools whatsoever.

Future Significance

The ruling that public facilities facilitating religious expression violates the first amendment's "establishment of religion" clause opens up the debate to not just schools. For instance, someone could possibly use the same argument to take the words "In God We Trust" off of our money.
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