Lee v. Weisman
505 U.S. 577 (1992)

  • A middle school in Rhode Island brought in a rabbi to say a non-denominational prayer at graduation.
  • Weisman and her parents objected to having a prayer said at graduation, and sued for an injunction.
    • 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.