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Supreme Court Rules School Prayer Unconstitutional

June 25, 1962 - The Supreme Court held today that the reading of an official prayer in New York public schools violated the Constitution. The prayer was drafted by the New York Board of Regents and recommended in 1951 for recital aloud by teachers and children at the start of every school day. It is non-denominational and just 22 words long. It read: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” By a vote of 6 to 1 the court held that the reading of the prayer was “an establishment of religion” forbidden by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The impact of the decision goes far beyond the New York prayer. The implication of the ruling was that any religious ceremony promoted by the state in public schools would be suspect. That would include reading of verses from the Bible — a practice now under challenge in Pennsylvania. Many public schools in the U.S. have such religious ceremonies. The practice is most common in the South, where chapel exercises and Bible readings are commonly used. Thus, today’s decision will likely have a major and controversial impact on public school practices across the country.

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