A middle school in Rhode
Island brought in a rabbi to say a non-denominational prayer at
Weisman and her parents
objected to having a prayer said at graduation, and sued for an
Weisman argued that having a
prayer was an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.
The Trial Court denied the
injunction. Weisman appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed
and found that the prayers were not constitutionally permitted. The
School Board appealed.
The School Board argued that
the prayer was non-denominational, and that it was voluntary because
Weisman didn't have to stand for the prayer, and was not even required to
attend graduation at all.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the prayer amounted to a "State-sponsored and State-directed
religious exercise in a public school," and that's a violation of
the Establishment Clause.
The Court noted that even
though it was voluntary, the prayer still amounted to coercion, since
Weisman would have to miss out on graduation, or be publicly singled-out
for not standing.
"A student is not free
to absent herself from the graduation exercise in any real sense of the
term 'voluntary,' for absence would require forfeiture of those
intangible benefits which have motivated the student through youth and
all her high school years."
"What to most
believers may seem nothing more than a reasonable request that the
nonbeliever respect their religious practices, in a school context may
appear to the nonbeliever or dissenter to be an attempt to employ the
machinery of the State to enforce a religious orthodoxy."
In a dissent it was argued
that only official penalties for refusing to support or adhere to a
particular religion created an Establishment Clause violation.