This is an overview of the landmark Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court case in 1962 regarding religion in school.

Essay by JonathanJMFHigh School, 12th grade April 2004

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Engel v. Vitale is a landmark 1962 United States Supreme Court case which declared the inclusion of state-sponsored school prayer, even when non-denominational and voluntary, unconstitutional. This case was sparked by the adoption of a school prayer which underwent extreme scrutiny and deliberations questioning whether the First Amendment prohibits laws respecting an establishment of religion or its free exercise. This case has been monumental to that of the United States and continues to apply to recent United States Supreme Court cases which deliberate about the separation between Church and state.

In 1951, the New York State Board of Regents for the State of New York published a "Statement on Moral and Spiritual Training in the Schools." One component of the statement was a concise, voluntary prayer to be recited by public school students at the beginning of each school day in the presence of a teacher. The prayer read, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."

The Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 9 of Hyde Park, NY, soon adopted the prayer. Soon after, the parents of ten different pupils, who were enrolled in the school district, filed a lawsuit in New York State Court. Steven Engel, the father of two children in the school district, headed the lawsuit and held his case against William J. Vitale, Jr., who was head of the school board. Engel stated that the prayer "conflicted with their beliefs, religions, or religious practices, and those of their children." He argued that opening a school day with that prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." The disgruntled parents also disputed that the Establishment Clause also applied...