50 Years Ago Today, the Supreme Court Declared That Prayer in Public School was Unconstitutional
At some point today, atheists everywhere ought to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a major Supreme Court decision - Engel v. Vitale - that helped get prayer out of public schools.
Back then, a school district in New York had students recite this prayer (voluntarily) at the beginning of each school day:
"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."
A group of families sued, saying this amounted to government endorsement of faith. The case made it to the Supreme Court, which had to grapple with a question many couldn't even believe was being asked:
Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?
The Court said "Yes it does" and the prayer was declared unconstitutional by a vote of 6-1.
That case turned out to be the basis for several other major decisions. In fact, thanks to the result in Engel, we no longer have moments of silent prayer and ministers can't speak at your public school's graduation. (Of course, we still have issues with the generic moment of silence and we've seen student-led prayers at graduations... but back then, it was more explicit promotion of prayer.)
A year later, the Court also ruled that school-sanctioned Bible readings were also unconstitutional in public schools.