In the Providence school system, most high school graduation ceremonies are conducted away from the school, while most middle school ceremonies are held on school premises.
Classical High School, which Deborah now attends, has conducted its graduation ceremonies on school premises. The graduating students enter as a group in a processional, subject to the direction of teachers and school officials, and sit together, apart from their families. Even on the assumption that there was a respectful moment of silence both before and after the prayers, the Rabbi's two presentations must not have extended much beyond a minute each, if that.
Happy families give thanks for seeing their children achieve an important milestone.
Send Your blessings upon the teachers and administrators who helped prepare them.
Syllabus Principals of public middle and high schools in Providence, Rhode Island, are permitted to invite members of the clergy to give invocations and benedictions at their schools' graduation ceremonies. Lee's decision that prayers should be given and his selection of the religious participant are choices attributable to the State. The school district's supervision and control of a high school graduation ceremony places subtle and indirect public and peer pressure on attending students to stand as a group or maintain respectful silence during the invocation and benediction.
Petitioner Lee, a middle school principal, invited a rabbi to offer such prayers at the graduation ceremony for Deborah Weisman's class, gave the Rabbi a pamphlet containing guidelines for the composition of public prayers at civic ceremonies, and advised him that the prayers should be nonsectarian. Moreover, through the pamphlet and his advice that the prayers be nonsectarian, he directed and controlled the prayers' content. (c) The Establishment Clause was inspired by the lesson that in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce. A reasonable dissenter of high school age could believe that standing or remaining silent signified her own participation in, or approval of, the group exercise, rather than her respect for it.
The potential for divisiveness is of particular relevance here, though, because it centers around an overt religious exercise in a secondary school environment where, as we discuss below, at 593-594, subtle coercive pressures exist, and where the student had no real alternative which would have allowed her to avoid the fact or appearance of participation.
The State's role did not end with the decision to include a prayer and with the choice of clergyman.
We find it unnecessary to address Daniel Weisman's taxpayer standing, for a live and justiciable controversy is before us. The District Court held that petitioners' practice of including invocations and benedictions in public school graduations violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and it enjoined petitioners from continuing the practice. The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause. The State's involvement in the school prayers challenged today violates these central principles.
Deborah Weisman is enrolled as a student at Classical High School in Providence and from the record it appears likely, if not certain, that an invocation and benediction will be conducted at her high school graduation. 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." 330 U. That involvement is as troubling as it is undenied.