Media for Lee v. WeismanAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1991 in Lee v. Weisman
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 1992 in Lee v. Weisman
Anthony M. Kennedy:
By the time they are seniors, high school students no doubt had been required to attend classes and assemblies and to complete assignments exposing them to ideas they find distasteful or immoral or absurd or all of these.
Against this background, students may consider it an odd measure of justice to be subjected during the course of their education to ideas deemed offensive and irreligious but to be denied a brief formal prayer ceremony that the school offers in return.
This argument cannot prevail, however it overlooks a fundamental dynamic of the Constitution.
In religious debate or expression, the government is not a prime participant.
Framers deemed religious establishment antithetical to their freedom of ore.
The Free Exercise Clause embraces the freedom of conscious and worship that does have close parallels in the speech provisions of the First Amendment, but the Establishment Clause is a specific provision on forms of state intervention in religious affairs with no precise counterpart in the speech provisions.
A lesson of history that was and is the inspiration for the Establishment Clause is that in the hands of government, what might begin as tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate in coerce.
The government argues that the option of not attending the graduation excuses any inducement of coercion in the ceremony itself.
We think that argument lacks all persuasion, everyone knows that in our society and in our culture, high school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions.
Attendance may not be required by official decree.
It is apparent that the student is not free to absent herself from the graduation exercises in any real sense of the term voluntary.
The Constitution forbids the state to exact religious conformity from a student as the price of attending her own high school graduation.
The sole question presented is whether a religious exercise may be conducted at a graduation ceremony in circumstances where, as we have found, young graduates who object are induced to conform.
No holding by this Court suggest that a school can persuade or compel a student to participate in a religious exercise.
That is being done here and it is forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
Justice Blackmun has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Stevens and Justice O'Connor join; Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Stevens and Justice O'Connor join.
A dissenting opinion in this case with which the Chief Justice, Justice White, and Justice Thomas have joined, I will not describe it at lengths except to say that we disagree with some of the principle premisses of the Court.
The premise, for example, that the prayer was directed by the principals of the schools here.
In fact, it was written by Rabbi Gutterman himself.
The only direction was the provision of a two-page flyer from the National Conference of Christians and Jews which described how to go about drawing up a non-sectarian prayer.
We disagree with the assertions of coercion that the majority opinion makes.
Not only was not attendance mandatory but standing up was not mandatory, much less participating in the prayer.
The only coercion involved here is the psychological coercion that is asserted to come from being present where others are praying, this at a high school graduation involving young men and women, most of whom are old enough to drive and many of whom are old enough to vote.
At the beginning of our republic, George Washington began his inarguable address with a statement that it would be peculiarly improper.
To admit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that almighty being who rules over the universe who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.
Rabbi Gutterman's prayer was not much different from that.
It went, God of the free, hope of the brave for the legacy of America where diversity is celebrated and the rights of minorities are protected, we thank you.
May these young men and women grow up to enrich it.
For the liberty of America, we thank you.