Lee v. Weisman - Oral Argument - November 06, 1991

Lee v. Weisman

Media for Lee v. Weisman

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 1992 in Lee v. Weisman

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1991 in Lee v. Weisman

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 90-1014, Robert E. Lee v. Daniel Weisman.

Mr. Cooper.

Charles J. Cooper:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

At the 1989 graduation ceremony of the Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island, Rabbi Leslie Gutterman opened the exercise with an invocation... one characterized by the district court as an example of elegant simplicity, thoughtful content, and sincere citizenship.

Harry A. Blackmun:

How old were these youngsters, Mr. Cooper?

Charles J. Cooper:

I beg your pardon, Justice--

Harry A. Blackmun:

How old were these youngsters graduating?

Charles J. Cooper:

--Your Honor, the graduates themselves, were graduating from middle school and into high school.

So they were just completing their eighth grade.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, how old were they is my question.

You haven't answered me.

Charles J. Cooper:

Your Honor, I think--

Harry A. Blackmun:

About 13 or 14, aren't they?

Charles J. Cooper:

--Yes, Your Honor.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Are we getting so--

Charles J. Cooper:

I'm sorry, I could not hear you.

Harry A. Blackmun:

--Never mind, go ahead.

Charles J. Cooper:

The district court and the court of appeals concluded that Rabbi Gutterman's invocation... and he gave a benediction which contained a similar reference to God... he opened the ceremony with the statement, God of the free, hope of the brave.

The district court concluded that that reference to the deity constituted an endorsement of religion, and therefore violated the second prong of this Court's three-part test under the Lemon case.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Cooper, the injunction sought here... this plaintiff is now out of the middle school and in high school.

Charles J. Cooper:

Yes, Your Honor.

Antonin Scalia:

And what's sought to be enjoined is the invocation in high school, isn't that right?

Charles J. Cooper:

Your Honor, the injunction runs to the public schools in Providence--

Antonin Scalia:

To the public schools in general.

Charles J. Cooper:

--And it includes certain high schools, yes, Your Honor.

Antonin Scalia:

But the high school students, how old are they?

They're about 18, I would guess.

Charles J. Cooper:

Your Honor, the graduates generally are in the 18-year-old range, yes, Your Honor.

The district court and the court of appeals on the concession of counsel for respondents concluded that if the invocation and benediction had been recast to omit reference to God that it would have been constitutionally unobjectionable.

So the courts enjoined the Providence School Committee from encouraging or authorizing future graduation ceremonies to include references to God, or prayers including references to God.