Why We Don’t Pray in Public Schools

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Prayer in public schools is a hotly debated topic today, but it’s nothing new. The idea was thoroughly debated, and to an extent settled, with a Supreme Court ruling that took place in 1962. The case, named Engel v. Vitale, ultimately helped to rule that prayer in a public school was unconstitutional.

In New Hyde Park, New York, a group of families of public school students were expressing some outrage of a prayer the schoolboard had written for children to recite at the start of each school day. The text is as follows:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”

The schoolboard argued that this text affirmed no particular religious belief, only a spiritual one. Through a lengthy history of the issues surrounding the separation of church and state, including a dive into 16th century British history, the court concluded 6-1 that such prayers were unconstitutional.

The very act of the text being a prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The court further ruled that promotion was a form of coercion. Though students were not required to participate, the very act of prayer being around them constituted a form of coercion into believing in religion at all.

This complicated ruling has repercussions still felt today, and America has historically had deep religious ties within its culture. It’s likely that this issue will continue to be debated for some time, but the courts have made a definitive ruling in the past.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Facebook.