The School Prayer Debate
PHI200 Mind and Machine
Instructor Jon Stern
July 20, 2011
One of the most hotly debated topics in the last fifty years is whether or not prayer in public schools should be allowed; a simple question which gives rise to many complicated and emotional answers. The most basic dispute is the separation of church and state. As reiterated in a 1962 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Eagel v. Vitale, the court ruled that public schools were not empowered to condone school prayer and in fact that school prayer was unconstitutional(Dierenfield,2007).
The case was brought about by families of public school students who complained that the voluntary prayer, “Almighty God,” was a contradiction to their beliefs. The prayer went simply, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teacher, and our country. Amen.”(Murray,2010)
The complaint argued that beginning the school day with this prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The constitutionality of the prayer had been upheld the N.Y. State Appeasl (Smith,1987). Not ironically perhaps because the prayer had been written and approved by the N.Y. Board of Regents. It ruled the opinion of the Supreme Court was that a government authorized prayer could not be made mandatory to be recited in a public school.
The Court further went on to reinstate how important the Separation of Church and State is. They went on to explain that prayer is a religious activity and thus violated the establishment clause. Hence the prayer written by a government agency to encourage religious belief was not permissible according to the Constitution. Many lawsuits on the same subject ensued.
In subsequent cases though, the Supreme Court has been consistent in its rulings. It has prohibited readings from...
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