Engel v. Vitale

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Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned classroom prayer from public schools. Specifically, the Court ruled "state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day - even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited."[3]

Justice Hugo Black, known for his judicial hostility to religion and support of pornography as free speech, wrote the opinion for the 6-1 Court. Only Justice Potter Stewart dissented. Justices Felix Frankfurter and Byron White recused themselves.

Justice Black's opinion was remarkable for citing only one precedent, establishing a modern record for lack of judicial authority. His sole citation of precedent was to an opinion he himself had written, Everson v. Board of Education, and it was for the purpose of referencing some historical material included in that decision rather than for its holding.

The banning of school prayer is continually being upheld by liberal activist judges despite its proven benefits such as the promotion of virtuous living, as Samuel Adams explained
"Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity. . .and leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system."

In addition America’s morality has declined. Since the banning of school prayer there has been a 225 percent increase in amount of children without fathers, a 343 percent rise in illegitimate births and a 454% enlargement in the violent crime rate. [2]

Conservative legal scholars like Erwin Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School, criticized this ruling. Griswold said in a major speech that the Court had no authority to prohibit prayer in public school:[3]

Congress had made no law [as required by the text of the First Amendment, and] those who wrote the 'establishment of religion' clause might be rather perplexed by the use which has been made of it in 1962. ... [I]t was unfortunate that the Court decided the case, one way or the other [because] there are some matters which are essentially local in nature ... to be worked out by the people themselves in their own communities. ... In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. Washington Star (Mar. 3, 1963)