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Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985)

In 1981, the Alabama legislature modified a 1978 statute that had allowed a moment of silence for the purpose of 'meditation." The 1981 amendment specified that the moment of silence was for the purpose of "meditation or prayer." The sponsor of the legislation went on record as stating that the sole purpose of this change was to bring prayer back into schools. When the Jaffree family brought this case to trial, the defense did nothing to rebut this description of the legislative purpose behind the revised statute.

Whether a law that authorizes a period of silence in public schools for "meditation or voluntary prayer" is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that a "moment of silence" law is unconstitutional when the explicit purpose and meaning of such a statute is to promote prayer.

The Court distinguished between implicitly allowing students an opportunity for voluntary prayer during an "appropriate moment of silence during the school day," and a moment of silence designed explicitly to favor prayer or other religious practices. The Court pointed out that the 1978 law already protected student’s right to pray during the moment of silence, and therefore the only purpose for changing the statute was to highlight, endorse and prefer prayer. For this reason, the Court found that the new law failed the first prong of the Lemon test -- that government action must have a secular purpose.

"The addition of 'or voluntary prayer' indicates that the State intended to characterize prayer as a favored practice. Such an endorsement is not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion." (Justice John Paul Stevens)

"To suggest that a moment-of-silence statute that includes the word 'prayer' unconstitutionally endorses religion, while one that simply provides for a moment of silence does not, manifests not neutrality but hostility toward religion." (Chief Justice Warren Burger)

Last updated: Friday, November 16, 2018 | 20:42:27