Conservative Group Laments School Prayer Ruling

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - A conservative group dedicated to individual rights and limited government has pronounced Tuesday a day of mourning for the demise of voluntary prayer in public schools.

It was forty years ago Tuesday that the U.S. Supreme Court banned voluntary school prayer, in what was billed as a "landmark" First Amendment case.

The Texas Justice Foundation says the 1962 Supreme Court ruling was "an exercise of raw judicial tyranny without precedent, one that produced a 40-year decline in the quality and safety of American schools."

In a statement, the Texas Justice Foundation said the ruling was historic all right - but for all the wrong reasons: "For the first time in American history, the will of the minority which opposed public prayer was imposed upon the majority."

The result, said the Texas Justice Foundation, has been moral anarchy and chaos in the nation's public schools.

In its 6-1 decision forty years ago, Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, said the nonsectarian school prayer - written by the New York State Board of Regents and approved by local school districts - violated the First Amendment's prohibition that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Said Black, "In this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government..."

This was the prayer at the heart of the controversy: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country."

Even though public school students were not required to say the prayer, most did - and that prompted several parents to file a lawsuit.

Forty years after the Supreme Court ruling, the effort to allow voluntary school prayer continues, generating opposition at every turn.

Last November, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) introduced a "Religious Freedom Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution that would allow prayer in public schools.

Istook said he believed America's attitude had changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, making passage of a school prayer amendment more likely.

Istook introduced a similar amendment several years ago, but when it finally made its way to the House floor in June 1998, there weren't enough votes for passage.

Those who oppose a school prayer amendment note that prayer in school is legal, as long as the school (and state) play no role in organizing it or encouraging it; they say school-sponsored prayer will lead to religious intolerance, ostracizing students who aren't Christian, for example; and they say there's no evidence linking the demise of school prayer with a perceived moral decline in America's public schools.

See Related Stories:
New York Kindergartner Allowed to Pray at Snack Time (12 April 2002)
Congressman Urges School Prayer Constitutional Amendment (7 Nov. 2001)
Texas Considers Virginia-Style Minute of Silence (2 Nov. 2001)