Wallace v. Jaffree

LOCATION: Public Schools

DOCKET NO.: 83-812
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 472 US 38 (1985)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1985

John S. Baker, Jr. - Argued the cause for the appellants
Paul M. Bator - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
Ronnie L. Williams - Argued the cause for the appellees

Facts of the case

An Alabama law authorized teachers to conduct regular religious prayer services and activities in school classrooms during the school day. Three of Jaffree's children attended public schools in Mobile.


Did Alabama law violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause?

Media for Wallace v. Jaffree

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 04, 1984 in Wallace v. Jaffree

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Wallace v. Jaffree and the consolidated case.

Mr. Baker, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

John S. Baker, Jr.:

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

The question in this case is whether a statute providing a minute of silence for meditation or voluntary prayer constitutes an establishment of religion, or whether it constitutes a common sense accommodation of the religious diversity of our people which is consistent with the purposes of the religion causes.

Alabama statute provides an opportunity to pray for so minded students, but this opportunity to pray is one that is perfectly consistent with the letter and the spirit of this Court's cases under the establishment clauses.

Moreover, we submit that this type of accommodation is one that is perfectly consistent with the spirit of the religion clauses in that it promotes pluralism which pervades both of the religion clauses.

This type of a statute involves none of the circumstances that have concerned this Court in prior cases.

This kind of a statute does not endorse religion, it does not endorse one religion over another, it does not endorse belief over nonbelief.

This kind of a statute is perfectly neutral on its face.

The statute is one that does not coerce in any way; it coerces only silence.

It does not coerce any religious practice, it does not coerce religious belief, it does not affirm religious belief.

It is in the nature of a statute neutral in that it respects the consciences of all students equally by allowing them either at their own choice to say a prayer in silence or to say or simply to meditate during this one moment, this one minute at the beginning of the day.

In addition to Alabama, there are 23 other states that have found that providing a moment of silence is a reasonable way to accommodate the various desires and needs of children in the public schools in a way that the states have deemed to be consistent with the case law in this Court.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Of course, some of those other states didn't have your accompanying statutes, did they, the ones that have been declared invalid.

John S. Baker, Jr.:

Alabama had several statutes--

Harry A. Blackmun:

--had a package.

Alabama had rather a package.

John S. Baker, Jr.:

--They were not passed as a package, Your Honor.

They were passed in various years.

There was first of all a moment of silence statute passed in 1978.

There was this statute which was passed in 1981.

There was a prayer statute which was struck down by the Eleventh Circuit which was passed in 1982, but they were not presented as a package.

They were lumped together in the course of litigation, Your Honor, yes.

The issue in this case--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, my only point is that your Alabama situation may be somewhat different from Massachusetts or some of the others which have just the single statute.

John S. Baker, Jr.:

--Your Honor, I think if you look at the legislative history in Massachusetts, you will find that there are certain parallels.

Massachusetts started out with a moment of silence statute in 1966.

They later amended that statute to add meditation or prayer, and later on they also attempted later on to amend the statute--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Is this true of all the other 36 states?

John S. Baker, Jr.:

--No, Your Honor, it is not true of all the other states.