On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that government-endorsed prayer in school — even if it’s voluntary — is unconstitutional. Fifty years later, do we still believe that driving God, prayer, and the Bible out of public schools has served our children well?
“The ongoing contention started when Steven Engel, a Jewish New Yorker, came together with other parents in 1958 to sue New York State over state-endorsed prayer that was being recited in schools,” notes one news story. “The Supreme Court inevitably sided with Engel and the decision was issued on June 25, 1962 — a day that lives in infamy in the minds of many religious individuals and free-speech advocates. The invocation in question was one that had been approved by the New York State Board of Regents. The prayer, which read, ‘Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country,’ was relatively benign in nature. Still, the parents were adamant that it shouldn’t be uttered in the public sphere.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica notes: “The Supreme Court’s ruling was released on June 25 and found New York’s law unconstitutional by a margin of 6–1 (two justices did not participate in the decision). Hugo L. Black wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion, in which the majority argued “that, by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents’ prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.” The lone dissent came from Potter Stewart, who argued that the majority had “misapplied a great constitutional principle” and could not understand “how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation.”
“A year later, the high court banned Bible reading in state schools, then overturned a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution,” notes another news story about the anniversary of the Court’s decision. “Rulings that prayers during school commencements and athletic events also violated the separation of church and state further fueled the secular-versus-faithful battle. Even unrelated disputes over abortion and health care mandates have emotional roots reaching back 50 years to a bland prayer composed by education officials in upstate New York.”
Is America better off since we began telling God that He was not welcome in the lives of our children? I think the evidence suggests just the opposite.