Brief Fact Summary. A school that invited a rabbi to deliver nonsectarian prayers at the school’s graduation ceremony was held by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) to be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Constitution forbids the state to exact religious conformity from a student as the price of attending her own high school graduation ceremony. To say that a student must remain apart from the ceremony at the opening invocation and closing benediction is to risk conforming uniformity in an environment analogous to the classroom setting, where we have said the risk of compulsion is high.
Issue. Whether the district’s practice of prayer at the graduation ceremony was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?
Held. Yes. Judgment of the lower court affirmed. Even for students who object to the religious exercise, their attendance and participation in the state-sponsored religious activity are in a fair and real sense obligatory, though the school district does not require attendance as a condition for receipt of the diploma. The degree of school involvement here made it clear that the graduation prayers bore the imprint of the state and thus, put school-age children who objected in an untenable position. For a dissenter of high school age, who has a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the state to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow, the injury is no less real. The state may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, place primary and secondary school children in this position. Therefore, the district’s practice of prayer at the graduation ceremony was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.View Full Point of Law