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Engel v. Vitale

Citation. 370 U.S. 421 (1962)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The School Board of a public school ordered a prayer to be read every morning. A group of families sued, arguing that it was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Mandating the recitation of a prayer at the beginning of a public school day is a violation of the Establishment Clause.


The Board of Education of Union Free School in New Hyde Park, New York directed the school’s principal to have a prayer read aloud by each class, every morning, in the presence of a teacher. State officials composed the prayer with the intention of establishing “moral and spiritual training in the schools.”


Is mandating a prayer to be read at the beginning of each public school day a violation of the Establishment Clause?


Yes, it is.


Justice Stewart

This is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. It is merely a practice of allowing students who want to pray, to pray together. There is a spiritual tradition in America that should be honored–or at least allowed to be honored.


Using the public school system to encourage recitation of a prayer is wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.

Praying is a religious activity. Furthermore, governmental officials wrote the prayer, breaching the separation of church and state.

It is irrelevant that the prayer is “nondenominational”  or that pupils can be excused from reciting it. It is still religious material being mandated by the government.

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