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Engle V. Us

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Essay title: Engle V. Us


Engle v. Vitale was the first case brought to the Supreme Court that used the establishment clause to remove religious activities that until this point had been used as a part of public observances. The First Amendment bars any enforcement of any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and the Fourteenth Amendment makes this applicable to the States. For that reason, state officials can not write an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools, even if the prayer is nondenominational and students who wish to remain silent or be excused are allowed to do so during the recitation of the prayer.

The parents of ten students brought this issue to the New York State Court maintaining that the use of the official prayer in the public schools was "contrary to the beliefs, religions, or religious practices of both themselves and their children." The question that was reviewed by the Supreme Court of The United States was whether New York overstepped the boundaries when they financed a religious exercise. The New York Court said that "the prayer given does not conform to all of the tenets of the Jewish, Unitarian, and Ethical Culture groups. The Supreme Court ruled that, though the prayer was nondenominational and students had the option of whether or not to recite the prayer and not be penalized for failure to do so, the state of New York and the school board had violated the Constitution of the United States and the rights of the students attending the public schools. Though many Americans still disagree with the verdict of the court, the ruling still stands today.


The opinion of the Court was delivered by Justice Black. The Court said: "Shortly after the practice of reciting the Regents' prayer was adopted by the School District, the parents of ten pupils brought this action in a New York State Court insisting that use of this official prayer in the public schools was contrary to the beliefs, religions, or religious practices of both themselves and their children. The New York Court of Appeals, over the dissents of Judges Dye and Fuld, sustained an order of the lower state courts which had upheld the power of New York to use the Regents' prayer as a part of the daily procedures of its public schools so long as the schools did not compel any pupil to join in the prayer over his or his parents' objection. We granted certiorari to review this important decision involving rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

The court continued by saying, "We think that by using pubic school system to encourage recitation of the Regents' prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York's program of daily classroom invocation of God's blessings as prescribed in the Regents' prayer is a religious activity. It is a solemn avowal of divine faith and supplication

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