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U.S. Supreme Court Backs Ban on Voluntary Prayer in Schools is Lauded

December 15, 1965
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A Supreme Court decision yesterday upholding a New York ban on voluntary recitation of a religious nursery prayer in public schools was lauded today by the head of a federation representing 440 Parent-and-Teacher Associations in New York City.

Directors of the Public Education Association and the New York Civil Liberties Union also hailed the decision, which stemmed from a suit by parents against a public school principal in Whitestone, Queens. He stopped kindergarten pupils from reciting “God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food” before eating milk and cookies each morning.

Mrs. Florence Flast, president of the United Parents Association, in praising the Supreme Court stand, said: “We have always opposed prayers in the schools, including the ‘voluntary’ prayer because it cannot really be voluntary. The child feels under pressure by the teacher.” Frederick C. McLaughlin, director of the Public Education Association, said that saying prayers in school by rote, “in an atmosphere that is non-religious, detracts from the prayer itself.”

Experts called the Supreme Court ruling the furthest extension to date of the school prayer prohibition since the Court ruled in 1962 that state-composed prayers were unconstitutional. In 1963, it barred state rules requiring classroom recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and devotional Bible reading.

Francis Buono, chairman of the Queens parents group which was formed to fight the New York state law against school prayers, called the High Court stand “a terrible ruling.” He declared that “now, for the first time, it is clearly established that no prayer — voluntary or involuntary — may be heard in the public schools of the land.”

He expressed the belief that the High Court ruling would spur advocates of a Constitutional amendment to permit school prayer. The Queens group, known as PRAY — for Prayer Rights for American Youth — was set up in 1962 and more than 1,000 families in the Queens community contributed funds to carry on the court fight. Mr. Buono said the legal battle had cost nearly $10,000.

The suit was brought by parents of 21 pupils in P. S. 184 after Principal Elihu Oshinsky ordered recitation of the nursery prayer stopped in September, 1962. He said he was acting in accordance with a New York City Board of Education decision. Federal District Judge Walter Bruchhausen ruled in favor of the parents, who included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Greek Crthodox and Armenian Apostolics. That ruling was reversed by the Court of Appeals of the Second Federal Circuit. The Supreme Court, by its unanimous decision yesterday, left standing the Appeals Court ruling.

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