Monday, June 25, 1962: Engel v. Vitale

The U.S. Supreme Court rules that voluntary prayer in public schools violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibition of a state establishment of religion. New York state's Board of Regents had written and authorized a voluntary nondenomination prayer that could be recited by students at the beginning of each school day. In 1958-59 a group of parents that included Steven Engel in Hyde Park, N.Y., objected to the prayer ... and sued the school board president, William Vitale. The prayer which proponents argued was constitutional because it was voluntary and promoted the free exercise of religion (also protected in the First Amendment, was upheld by New York's courts, prompting the petitioners to file a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. ... The decision, the first in which the Supreme Court had ruled unconstituional public school sponsorship of religion, was unpopular with a broad segment of the American public. (from www.britannica.com)

The prayer in question: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."

The vote was 6-1, with Justices Byron White and Felix Frankfurter not taking part in the decision. (The case was argued on April 3, but White did not take his seat until April 16. Frankfurter suffered a stroke on April 5, leading to his retirement in August.)

Photo from Corbis Images, taken June 27, 1962, the day after the ruling, in San Antonio, Texas.

* Text of ruling, including links to concurring opinion from Justice William O. Douglas and dissenting opinion from Justice Potter Stewart (from www.law.cornell.edu): @
* Short summary and link to audio of oral arguments (from www.oyez.com): @
* Entry from www.uscourts.gov: @
* Entry from "The Encyclopedia of American Law" (David Andrew Schultz, 2002): @
* "Prayer and Scripture Reading in Public Schools: (from www.firstamendmentstudies.org): @
* "Atheists vs. Evangelists: The School Prayer Decision of 1962" (The Saturday Evening Post, 2012): @
* "Engel v. Vitale: Prayer in the Schools" (book by Susan Dudley Gold, 2006): @

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