Separation of Church and State

Lee vs. Weisman 112 S. Ct. 2649 (1992)

Overview

Robert E. Lee, a middle school principal in Providence Rhode Island, invited a rabbi to speak at his school's graduation ceremony. Daniel Weisman, the parent of one of the graduates, attempted to get a restraining order to prevent to rabbi from speaking at the graduation, but he was denied. After the ceremony, where prayers were recited, Weisman filed for a permanent injunction barring Lee and any other Providence public schools from inviting clergy to perform benedictions at schools ceremonies.

Outcome

Lee vs. Weisman declared it unconstitutional for a school district to provide any clergy to perform a nondenominational prayer at elementary or secondary school graduations because it involves government sponsorship of worship.

The court decided that government involvement in this case created a "state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in public schools". Because of the principle of the Establishment Clause, the government may not compose official prayers to recite as part of a religious program.

As an educator...

Being an educator and knowing that all students have different beliefs and values, I would not have invited a rabbi to speak at my school's graduation ceremony. At this particular school, all students were told to stand respectfully and silently while the rabbi was praying, which is a form of subtle and indirect coercion. As educators, I believe that it's important to balance the separation of church and state while still valuing religious diversity. Teaching different religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddism, etc. is important so students will be able to appreciate the different cultures and religions in this world. Because religion is the basis for so many historical events and conflicts, it's important to learn about them without showing preference to one religion over another!

References

Lee v. Weisman. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/90-1014


U.S. Supreme Court Decisions. (1995-2015). Retrieved from http://infidels.org/library/modern/church-state/decisions.html