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Lee v. Weisman

    Citation. 505 U.S. 577, 112 S. Ct. 2649, 120 L. Ed. 2d 467, 1992 U.S. 4364.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Rachel Weisman (Defendant), alleges that a school sponsored, non-denominational prayer offered at a public school graduation violated the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A public school cannot sponsor clerics to conduct even a non-denominational prayer as part of a graduation ceremony as the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise or otherwise act in a way, which establishes a state religion, or tends to do so.

    Facts. A rabbi was invited to deliver a prayer at a public school’s graduation ceremony. The rabbi was given a copy of a pamphlet that recommended prayers at civic ceremonies be inclusive and sensitive. The Defendant, a student at the school, challenged the practice of having prayers at public school graduations.

    Issue. Whether including clerical members who offer prayer as part of the official school graduation ceremony is consistent with the Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

    Held. No, including clerical members who offer prayer as part of the official school ceremony is not consistent with the Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The fact that the principle decided that a cleric should offer a prayer at a public school graduation, is as if a state statute decreed that the prayers must occur. The principal’s act of giving the cleric guidelines for the prayer means the principal directed and controlled the content of the prayer in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the preferring one religion over another. The court stated that the question is not the good faith of the school in attempting to make the prayer acceptable to most persons, but the legitimacy of its undertaking that enterprise at all, when the object is to produce a prayer to be used in a formal religious exercise, which students, for all practical purposes, are obliged to attend.

    Dissent. In holding that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) lays waste to a tradition that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally.
    Concurrence. The government must not engage in religious practices.

    Discussion. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution is a specific prohibition concerning forms of state intervention in religious affairs. The state may not consistent with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution place school age children in a position of participating or protesting prayer at public graduation ceremonies. If the government regulation contains no religious preference it is valid under the Establishment Clause of the Constitution if it (i) has a secular purpose; (ii) has a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion and (iii) does not produce excessive government entanglement with religion. A public school sponsoring a nonsectarian prayer at a graduation ceremony is considered excessive government entanglement and is invalid.


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