Engel v. Vitale

PETITIONER: Steven I. Engel, et al.
RESPONDENT: William J. Vitale, Jr., et al.
LOCATION: Herricks School District

DOCKET NO.: 468
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 370 US 421 (1962)
ARGUED: Apr 03, 1962
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1962

ADVOCATES:
Bertram B. Daiker - For the Respondents
Porter R. Chandler - For the Intervenors-Respondents
William J. Butler - For the Petitioner

Facts of the case

The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day. This was an attempt to defuse the politically potent issue by taking it out of the hands of local communities. The blandest of invocations read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."

Question

Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?

Media for Engel v. Vitale

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 03, 1962 (Part 1) in Engel v. Vitale

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 03, 1962 (Part 2) in Engel v. Vitale

Porter R. Chandler:

Thank you sir.

Earl Warren:

-- argument.

Porter R. Chandler:

Pursuing the question that I had before lunch with Mr. Justice Stewart and I apologize for misnaming Mr. -- Mr. Justice Whittaker.

Potter Stewart:

I wish Justice Whittaker were here.

Porter R. Chandler:

On the Barnette case on the flag salute, I want to make quite plain that our position is that the flag salute even before the words "under God" were put into it was regarded as a religious right by the Jehovah's Witnesses and was so treated by this Court.

The Jehovah's Witnesses thought that the flag salute even without those words was the worship of graven images and exposed a participant to power of damnation and if my friends are right in their contention, any conscientious, agnostic or atheist can object to the flag salute in its present form and cannot merely ask to have it -- have his child excused but can ask to have it embo -- abolished and that is the case that's now pending in the New York Court of Appeals.

And any conscientious Jehovah's Witness and the Jehovah's Witnesses are not unknown in this Court as litigants.

Any Jehovah's Witness could say that the flag salute without those words should be abolished for the whole school room so that his child should not be pointed out as different.

And the Jehovah's Witness child is put -- is marked off as considerably different because in the case of the flag salute, there is an open gesture prescribed and a child who doesn't say it can be spotted right away.

A child who doesn't want to say this prayer can just keep silent and not say it at all.

I take one further step in our national heritage and that is the words "In God We Trust" which were declared to be our national motto.

I regret to say that the very same organization which is publicly announced that is sponsoring this case has gone off record as saying that it's a violation of the First Amendment to have the words "In God We Trust" displayed on the walls of the public school where a child can read it.

I presume the same organization would say that it was unconstitutional to read or to teach these words from the Constitution of Iowa, "We the people of the State of Iowa, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings he thereto enjoyed and feeling our dependence on him for a continuance of those blessings."

Or this from New Jersey, "We the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which he has so long permitted as to enjoy and looking to him for a blessing upon our endeavours to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations," or this from Texas, "Humbly invoking the blessings of Almighty God."

The plain fact is that as this Court has said, such things run through our national history and our national heritage and it would, in the view of the parents whom I represent, be a warping of our national heritage forcibly to rewrite the curriculum of every public school to extend everything that slants in that direction yet nothing less than that is what my friends are now asking.

I do not ask my friends to --

Earl Warren:

Mr. Chandler may I ask you?

Porter R. Chandler:

Yes.

Earl Warren:

Just what is the basis of your client's objection that it deprives their children of the right to have religious instruction in the school?

Porter R. Chandler:

I wouldn't go that far Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

Well you -- you emphasize to us that some are Protestants, some are Catholics and some are Jews and so forth.

Porter R. Chandler:

Yes.

Earl Warren:

And you put it all in a religious context --

Porter R. Chandler:

I put it on a religious context --

Earl Warren:

And then --

Porter R. Chandler:

-- in this (Voice Overlap) --

Earl Warren:

Your people had denied that.

Now --

Porter R. Chandler:

This --

Earl Warren:

-- is it because of religion?