Engel v. Vitale

370 US 421 (1962)

    Issue : Does a daily recited prayer (The Regent's Prayer) violate the First Amendment by establishing religion.

    Decision: The Supreme Court reasoned that the daily recitation of prayer in schools violated the Establishment Clause because it was sectarian and religious in purpose.

    Significance: Public schools are still faced with the conflict as to how public schools can either teach about religion or promote morality without reference to or reliance upon religion. In 1962 supervisors of the New York Public School system, The State Board of Regents became concerned about an apparent decline in the morality of school students and so began a program of "moral and spiritual training" in the schools. Part of the program included a prayer every morning which the Regents themselves had composed in a nondemoninational form. Labeled the "To whom it may concern" prayer it stated:

    Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

    The ACLU and a group of ten parents joined together in a suit --Engel v. Vitale 370 US 421 (1962), against the Board of Education of New Hyde Park, New York because they had adopted that prayer. Amicus curiae briefs were filed by the American Ethical Union, the American Jewish Committee and the Synagogue Council of America. Both the state court and the New York Court of Appeals allowed the prayer to be recited.

    This landmark case in educational law got the ball rolling on the separation of church and state in the latter half of the 20th century.


    Corkill, Phillip. The Law and American Education. Tucson, Arizona. 1991 (Lecture presented at the Flowing Wells School District Administrative Office).

    DOC BodyPage:
    www2.law.cornell.edu/.../doc/%7Bt32960%7D/ hit_headings/words=4/pageitems=%7Bbody%7D

    Important Landmark Cases in Educational Law