U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Prayers in New York Public Schools

The constitutionality of a daily prayer recitation in New York public schools will be considered by the United States Supreme Court next spring.

The high court agreed to rule on the prayer, which was recommended in 1951 by the New York Board of Regents for all public schools in New York State and which was up held in a series of tests in state courts. The prayer is: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.”

The Supreme Court agreement to examine the issue will be its first on the highly controversial dispute. Five families with 10 children in school in New Hyde Park in suburban Nassau county are the complainants. Two are Jewish, one is Unitarian, one is a member of the Ethical Culture Society and one is a non-believer.

They contended, in their appeal to the Supreme Court, that the affect of the procedure, though not mandatory on pupils in schools where it is used, was to force all children to join in the prayer. They also said the language of the prayer was contrary to their religious views and, in the one case, contrary to the non-religious views of one of the families.

Their petition argued that the prayer constituted state encouragement of religious practices in the schools and hence a violation of a Constitution ban on any governmental establishment of religion. All of these arguments were rejected in New York courts. The petition to the Supreme Court was an appeal from a five to two ruling of the New York State Court of Appeals sustaining the constitutionality of the prayer recitations.

The Board of Regents filed a strong brief as “a friend of the court” in opposition to the appeal. The brief asserted that the board recommended the prayer because it was “aware of the dire need, in these days of concentrated attacks by an atheistic way of life upon our world.” Two private citizens, Bertram Dalker of Port Washington, Long Island, and Thomas J. Ford of Brooklyn, filed a brief on behalf of the New Hyde Park School board and a group of parents who support the prayers.

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