Engel V. Vitale Essay, Research Paper
Engel v Vitale
The Supreme Court case, Engel v. Vitale, was an extremely controversial case that directly dealt with the First Amendment. This Supreme Court case established a separation of church and state. Engel v. Vitale was such an extremely controversial case that it has opened the doorway for other cases dealing with church and state.
Every morning in New Hyde Park School, in New York, students would recite “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence of Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country (Morgan 634).” A school body called the New York State Regent created this recited prayer, and said that pupils had the choice to remain silent during the prayer if they wanted to (Chandler 84). Mr. Engel and four other families thought the prayer to be offensive, and appealed their case to the Supreme Court in 1962 (Auble 1).
Engel, along with the other families, took one side of the argument. They believed that by reciting the short Regents’ prayer they were partaking in a religious activity and therefore breaking the line between church and state. They also questioned why their tax money was used to pay teachers to lead the class in school prayer. Another point that they presented to the Supreme Court was that the words in the prayer “Almighty God,” was recognizing and singling out a specific religion. These families were Jewish, Atheist, Ethical Culture Society and Unitarian and by saying these words the families believed that they were going against their own religions (Auble 1-2). The Engels’ sincerely believed that their First Amendment rights were being denied. The Constitution states in this amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” The act of reciting the short prayer clearly went against their First Amendment rights (Engel 1).
Vitale, representing the school board, presented the other side of the issue. This side stressed that students could choose not to participate in the reading of the prayer if they so desired and could leave the room or remain silent, making the prayer legal in the school. In direct contrast with the Engel approach, this side felt that the brief prayer did not in any way pick out one single religion (Auble 2). Another tactic that the opposing side took was by saying that religion has always played a key role in our society, from the engraving on our coins to our Pledge of Allegiance (Issue 2).
Six Justices voted the recited prayer to be unconstitutional and one Justice voted that the Regents’ prayer was constitutional. Justice Black delivered the opinion of the court for the case Engel v. Vitale. Justice Black addressed that the option to remain silent or leave the room was irrelevant to the case, Engel v. Vitale (Morgan 634). He further stated that the “State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause (Lee 1).”
The case, Engel v. Vitale, ended with a 6-1 Supreme Court decision in 1962. Justice Stewart was the only dissenting opinion. He believed that since the recited prayer was voluntary, it did not favor a specific religion (Morgan 634). He also stated that “To deny students the recitation of the prayer is also denying them the opportunity of sharing the spiritual heritage of our nation.” Justice Douglas represented the majority opinion of the Supreme Court. He found that the recitation of the prayer was unconstitutional for the fact that its funds were paid by the government. He went further to explain this by saying that the salaries of the teachers, who were the leaders of the prayer, were paid by taxes, which was paid by the government. He felt that the government should have no part in paying for religious exercise (Auble 2).
The final decision of Engel v. Vitale had a considerably huge impact. Many schools followed the new law, while others found loopholes in the system and carried on with prayer in schools. Even though the court felt that the government involvement in religious practices to be offensive much of America did not. Newspapers were filled with angry letters about the decision, accusing our country and our court of not believing in God. Even some former Presidents objected to the final Supreme Court decision (Auble 2). The biggest impact that Engel v. Vitale brought about was that it was the beginning of numerous decisions concerning religion in public schools in America (Morgan 634). Also the issue of prayer in school is still debated today.
Auble, Kelli. “Engel V. Vitale.” http://www.corbett.k12.or.us/highschool/activities/ussc/kelli%20auble.htm (15Dec. 1998).
Chandler, Ralph, and Enslen, Richard, and Renstrom, Peter. “Engel V. Vitale.” The Constitutional Law Dictionary. California: ABC-CLIO, 1985.
“Engel V. Vitale.” http”//www.pbs.org/jefferson/enlight/prayer.htm#back (15 Dec. 1998).
Lee, Jenny J. “1962 Engel V. Vitale.” http://www.gseis.uncla.edu/courses/ed191.html (15 Dec 1998).
Morgan, Richard E. “Engel V. Vitale.” Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. New York: Macmillan, 1986.