June 25, 2012

50 Years Ago Today

On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 1 that it was unconstitutional for a government agency like a school or government agents like public school employees to require students to recite prayers.

In his majority opinion, Justice Black sided substantially with the arguments of the separationists, who quoted heavily from Thomas Jefferson and made extensive use of his “wall of separation” metaphor. Particular emphasis was placed upon James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.”

According to Black, the governmentally created prayer recitation is much like the English creation of the Book of Common Prayer. It was to avoid exactly this type of relationship between government and organized religion that many early colonists came to America. In his words, the prayer was “a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.”