When came to a school prayer and the First Amendment, Lee v. Weismann (1992) said prayer amounts to coecion which violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Now, heres the facts. Deborah Weisman (Defendant), a highschool student, and Robert E. Lee (Plaintiff), a principal, are the parties of this case. The case revolves around a school graduation prayer, which Doborah claims violated her First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court had to address this issue. Is a school prayer a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

The Court ruled this way. The Court said Deborah Wiesman was coeced by sitting through a graduation prayer. The Court said coercion amounts to an establishment of religion which the Establishment Clause forbids.

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy discussed the Coercion Test.

“The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause. It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way which ‘establishes a [state] religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.'”

In dissent, Justice Scalia argued for history and tradition as opposed to the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

“In holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies, the Court – with nary a mention that it is doing so – lays waste a tradition that is as old as public school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally.”

Lee v. Weisman was another case which disscussed the Lemon Test. In the Lemon Test, states must follow these guidelines: 1) all government regulation must have a secular purpose, 2) has a primary effect that neither advances or inhibits religions, and 3) does not produce excess government entanglement with religion. In this case, the state sponsored school prayer violated the three prong test laid out in Lemon v. Kurtzman.

Historically, it should be mentioned, the constitutional forefathers fought over the meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. From day one, all the forefathers, Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Washington, had different ideas of what the Establishment Clause of the Constitution meant when ratified in 1788. However, to this day, for over 200 plus years, the fight over the meaning of the Establishment Clause continues with no end in sight.

That being said, in some circles, it should be said that the Establishment Clause only applies to the Congress. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…” Many states have argued this point throughout history in many law cases.

In conclusion, Lee v. Weisman is an interesting case. First, it said prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause. Also, it showed how the meaning of the Establishment Clause is contested even to this day.  As well, this case shows how the case law involving the Establishment Clause is filled with inconsistent rulings and numerous tests, which all seem to go nowhere. Once again, we have a case which demonstrates the uncertainty of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. 

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