1985 June 4

Alabama “Moment of Silence” Law Unconstitutional


In their continuing efforts to nullify or evade the Supreme Court decision prohibiting officially sponsored prayer in public schools (see Engel v. Vitale, decided on June 25, 1962), religious conservatives succeeded in getting Alabama to pass a “moment of silence” law, directing that public school teachers open each school day with one-minute period devoted to “meditation or voluntary prayer.”

Ishmael Jaffree, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, who had three children in the Mobile schools, challenged the constitutionality of the law as an establishment of religion (May 28, 1982). Jaffree also alleged that two of his children had been subject to religious indoctrination, including group prayer led by teachers. The Supreme Court decided on this day that the Alabama law was clearly intended to promote religion and thus was a violation of the Establishment Clause, in Wallace v. Jaffree.

The Court: “ . . . Senator Donald Holmes, inserted into the legislative record—apparently without dissent—a statement indicating that the legislation was an ‘effort to return voluntary prayer’ to the public schools.”

Learn more about Ishmael Jaffree and his family: Peter Irons, The Courage of Their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court(1990)

Learn more about religion in the schools: https://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/religion-and-schools

Listen to the oral argument before the Court: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1984/1984_83_812

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