Historical Background In 1951, the New York State Board of Education, also known as the New York State Board of Regents provided a twenty-two word prayer that would be spoken each morning in the schools. The prayer read as follows: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” It was believed the prayer would be a way to promote character and citizenship among the students who attended the schools of New York. In New Hyde Park, the Union Free School District No. 9 instructed the principal to have the prayer said aloud at the beginning of class in front of the teacher. However, the prayer was voluntary and students were permitted to stand or not stand, say the prayer or not say the prayer, stay in the classroom or leave the classroom. Ten of the student’s parents did not agree with the prayer and filed a suit in a New York state court seeking to ban the prayer informing the court the prayer was contradictory to their beliefs or religious practices. The State’s court heard the case and made a decision to uphold the use of prayer.
Legal Questions Identified by the Court It was being argued that the use of prayer in the school was a violation of the Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Parents of the students believed that the prayer was created by government officials to further expand
religious beliefs. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The question that was before the Court was whether or not the New York Board of Regents violated the religious freedom of students by requiring time during the day for this particular prayer. Another question before the Court was...
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