Supreme Court Cases

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Supreme Court Cases

Engle vs. Vitale

Case: In the late 1950's the New York State Board of Regents wrote and adopted a prayer, which was supposed to be nondenominational. The board recommended that students in public schools say the prayer on a voluntary basis every morning. In New Hyde Park Long Island a parent sued the school claiming that the prayer violated the first amendment of the constitution. The school argued that the prayer was nondenominational and did not attempt to "establish or endorse" a religion and thus that it did not violate the establishment clause.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: The court ruled against the school district and upheld the establishment clause of the first amendment. Prayer in schools was to be considered unconstitutional.

Lemon vs. Kurtzman

Case: Pennsylvania's law included paying the salaries of teachers in parochial schools, assisting the purchasing of textbooks, and other teaching supplies, as required by Pennsylvania's Non-Public Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. In Rhode Island, the State paid 15% of the salaries of private school teachers as mandated by the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act of 1969. In both cases the teachers were teaching secular, not religious, subjects.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: Arguments were made on March 3rd, 1971. On June 28th, 1971, the Court unanimously (7-0) determined that the direct government assistance to religious schools was unconstitutional.

Bridget Mergens-Mayhew vs. U.S.

Case: Westside High School, a public secondary school that receives federal financial assistance, permits its students to join, on a voluntary basis, a number of recognized groups and clubs, all of which meet after school hours on school premises. Citing the Establishment Clause and a School Board policy requiring clubs to have faculty sponsorship, petitioner school officials denied the request of respondent Mergens for permission to form a Christian club that would have the same privileges and meet on the same terms and conditions as other Westside student groups, except that it would have no faculty sponsor. After the Board voted to uphold the denial, respondents, current and former Westside students, brought suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. They alleged, inter alia, that the refusal to permit the proposed club to meet at Westside violated the Equal Access Act, which prohibits public secondary schools that receive federal assistance and that maintain a "limited open forum" from denying "equal access" to students who wish to meet within the forum on the basis of the "religious, political, philosophical, or other content" of the speech at such meetings. In reversing the District Court's entry of judgment for petitioners, the Court of Appeals held that the Act applied to forbid discrimination against respondents' proposed club on the basis of its religious content, and that the Act did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Constitutional issue it relates to: Freedom of Religion

Decision: In 1985, the principal and superintendent of Westside High School (a secondary school in Omaha, Nebraska) cited the Establishment Clause as a reason for denying the request of Bridget Mergens to form a Christian club that would have the same privileges and meet on the same terms and conditions as other Westside student groups, except that it would have no faculty sponsor. Ms. Mergens took the case to court, and won at first. She lost on appeal at the 8th Circuit Court, and then later won in a 8-1 decision from the Supreme Court

Johnson vs. U.S.

Case: During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, respondent Johnson participated in a political demonstration to protest the policies of the Reagan administration and some Dallas-based corporations. After a march through the city streets, Johnson burned an American flag while protesters...
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