1948 December 9

ACLU Protests New York “Regents’ Prayer” For Public Schools


In an early stage of what would become a long struggle over religion in public schools, the New York Regents, the governing body of the state public schools, drafted a nondenominational prayer to be read in the schools. The nondenominational prayer was an attempted political compromise: a “prayer” to satisfy those who wanted a mandatory school prayer, but a nondenominational one that hopefully would not offend different religious groups. The ACLU did not accept the compromise — because a prayer is still a prayer — and protested the “Regents’ Prayer” on this day. The struggle culminated 14 years later in the landmark Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale, decided on June 25, 1962, in which the Court held that in-school prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In the decades that followed the historic decision in Engel, religious conservatives tried various strategies for re-introducing religion into public schools. They included a “moment of silence” that would allow student to pray (June 4, 1985),  “the balanced treatment” of creationism and the theory of evolution (June 19, 1987), and the teaching of “intelligent design” (December 20, 2005).

The entire Regents Prayer: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

Read: Bruce Dierenfield, The Battle Over School Prayer (2007)

And read: Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (2012)

Learn more about the Establishment Clause at the First Amendment Center: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion

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