Lee v. Weisman Case Brief

Facts of the case

In keeping with the practice of several other public middle and high school principals in Providence, Rhode Island, Robert E. Lee, a middle school principal, invited a rabbi to speak at his school’s graduation ceremony. Daniel Weisman’s daughter, Deborah, was among the graduates. Hoping to stop the rabbi from speaking at his daughter’s graduation, Weisman sought a temporary restaining order in District Court – but was denied. After the ceremony, where prayers were recited, Weisman filed for a permanent injunction barring Lee and other Providence public school officials from inviting clergy to deliver invocations and benedictions at their schools’ ceremonies. When the Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court ruling against the schools, Lee appealed to the Supreme Court and was granted certiorari.

Why is the case important?

The Defendant, Rachel Weisman (Defendant), alleges that a school sponsored, non-denominational prayer offered at a public school graduation violated the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Question

Whether including clerical members who offer prayer as part of the official school graduation ceremony is consistent with the Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

ANSWER

No, including clerical members who offer prayer as part of the official school ceremony is not consistent with the Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The fact that the principle decided that a cleric should offer a prayer at a public school graduation, is as if a state statute decreed that the prayers must occur. The principal’s act of giving the cleric guidelines for the prayer means the principal directed and controlled the content of the prayer in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the preferring one religion over another. The court stated that the question is not the good faith of the school in attempting to make the prayer acceptable to most persons, but the legitimacy of its undertaking that enterprise at all, when the object is to produce a prayer to be used in a formal religious exercise, which students, for all practical purposes, are obliged to attend.

CONCLUSION

The Court affirmed, holding that including clerical members who offered prayers as part of the official school graduation ceremony was inconsistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment , which the Fourteenth Amendment made applicable with full force to the states and their school districts.

  • Advocates: Charles J. Cooper Argued the cause for the petitioners Sandra A. Blanding Argued the cause for the respondent Kenneth W. Starr on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners
  • Petitioner: Lee
  • Respondent: Weisman
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Nathan Bishop Middle School
Citation: 505 US 577 (1992)
Argued: Nov 6, 1991
Decided: Jun 24, 1992
Lee v. Weisman Case Brief