Engel vs. Vitale & Separation of Church and State

Here is another blog that I wrote for work concerning Engel vs. Vitale & Separation of Church and State. This was a historic case in the late 1950s and early 1960s concerning state sponsored prayer in New York state’s public schools.

During the Delaware Valley event Jonathan Engel, the son of Steven Engel will be talking about his late father’s legacy concerning “Engel v. Vitale & Separation of Church and State”. Steven Engel was a Long Island parent who mounted a successful legal challenge against the state sponsored Regent’s Prayer after he visited his son’s elementary school in 1958 where he found his son praying the Regent’s Prayer in the Christian manner with head bowed and hands clasped. Engel, who was Jewish, took issue with this and told his son, Jonathan, that their people did not pray in this manner. Engel and eight other parents (two Jews, and Atheist, a Unitarian, and a Protestant) at the Herricks High School in New Hyde, New York sued the Commissioner of Education to contest the mandatory daily Regent’s Prayer in school classrooms. The parents believed that the prayer was contrary to their beliefs, religious practices or the religions of themselves and their children. The Regent’s Prayer was a non-denominational prayer approved and recommended by the State Board of Regents in 1951 and invoked God’s blessing on the students, their parents, teachers, and country. The state permitted the prayer to continue as long as no student was required to recite it.

Between 1958 and 1959 with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and briefs filed on their behalf by the American Ethical Union and the American Jewish Committee the group of Hyde Park parents officially objected to the prayer and sued the school board president Vitale. In 1962 the Supreme Court reversed the State Court’s decision on the recitation of the Regent’s Prayer in a 6-1 vote that the prayer being recited in public schools violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that bars government sponsored religious activity despite the governments of twenty states calling the U.S. Supreme court to uphold the prayer. The case itself and the outcome created a storm of controversy with many people believing it was wrong that the Supreme Court declared a simple declaration of a child’s belief in God unconstitutional while others believed it was doing away with Godly tradition in the U.S.

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