Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned classroom prayer from public schools. Specifically, the Court ruled "state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day — even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited."
The prayer which so offended the Supreme Court was as follows:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.
Justice Hugo Black, a former Ku Klux Klan member and Democrat senator known for his judicial hostility to religion, racism and support of pornography as free speech, wrote the opinion for the 6-1 Court. Only Justice Potter Stewart dissented. Justices Felix Frankfurter and Byron White recused themselves, although they most likely would have dissented as well.
Justice Black's opinion was remarkable for citing only one precedent, establishing a modern record for lack of judicial authority. His sole citation of precedent was to an opinion he himself had written, Everson v. Board of Education, and it was for the purpose of referencing some historical material included in that decision rather than for its holding.
In addition, America’s morality has declined as a consequence. Since the banning of school prayer, there have been a 225 percent increase in amount of children without fathers, a 343 percent rise in illegitimate births, and a 454% enlargement in the violent crime rate. These data are taken from the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, which in turn relies on statistical data collected since 1960.
Erwin Griswold, a former Dean of the Harvard Law School, criticized this ruling. Griswold said in a speech that the Court had no authority to prohibit prayer in public school:
- Congress had made no law [as required by the text of the First Amendment, and] those who wrote the 'establishment of religion' clause might be rather perplexed by the use which has been made of it in 1962. ... [I]t was unfortunate that the Court decided the case, one way or the other [because] there are some matters which are essentially local in nature ... to be worked out by the people themselves in their own communities. ... In a country which has a great tradition of tolerance, is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that tolerance, should be tolerant, too?