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On the anniversary of Engels v. Vitale (1962)

June 25, 2015
It’s the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court 6-1 ruling in “Engels v. Vitale” from 1962, which declared that forcing children to recite a prayer in public school was unconstitutional.
Contrary to what critics of this ruling say, this does not mean that “prayer is illegal” or that the ruling “took prayer out of public schools”. Children are still free to pray whenever and wherever they want, in the manner prescribed by their beliefs (and not that of their teachers) as long as they are not being disruptive to the learning process that is the purpose of the school… NOT indoctrination into a particular religion. But they can’t be coerced or forced into praying, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, and their teachers cannot require any practice of any religion.
It was a ruling that supported freedom of religion, since the families who brought the lawsuit were concerned about government officials mandating the style, manner, timing and language of a personal form of worship. Ultimately the Justices concurred.
Also going through the courts at the time, and to be decided almost a year later, was the Abington v. Schempp case in which laws in multiple states that mandated Bible verse reading in the public schools were also declared unconstitutional. Lest you think that this practice was open-minded towards religion and religious beliefs, a student named Ellery Schempp kicked off the lawsuit process by reading from the Qu’ran instead of the Bible, for which he was ejected from class. The book “Ellery’s Protest” presents the story of that action and lawsuit, and is a great read if anyone (local!) wants to borrow it.

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