Engel v. Vitale: Prayer in the Schools

By Susan Dudley Gold | Go to book overview

Christianity as the national religion. But James Madison and Thomas Jefferson—both future presidents—fought off Henry's efforts. Their case for government neutrality served as a basis for the First Amendment.

In opposing Henry's campaign for Christianity, Madison delivered a doctrine that set forth America's commitment to freedom of religion:

The Religion then of every man must be left to
the conviction and conscience of every man;
and it is the right of every man to exercise it as
these may dictate. This right is in its nature an
unalienable right.

For more than two centuries, freedom of religion has remained at the heart of the American way of life. Immigrants from countries all over the world—like the European settlers before them—have come to America's shores to escape from religious persecution and to practice a wide array of religions and ideologies. The [free exercise] section of the First Amendment guarantees the right of these groups to practice their religion as they see fit.

The First Amendment's [establishment clause] bars the government from forming a state church or favoring one church over another. It erects a protective barrier for those with unpopular religious views against pressure from the majority. Despite the founders' commitment to religious neutrality, however, zealots from every corner have sought to win state support for their religious beliefs. Like Patrick Henry, some politicians and their supporters continue to press for a resolution to make the United States a Christian nation. While there are Americans who would overturn the First Amendment's ban on the establishment

-8-

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Engel v. Vitale: Prayer in the Schools
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 2
  • Contents 5
  • Foreword 7
  • One - The Regents' Prayer 12
  • Two - A Constitution and a Bill of Rights 18
  • Three - First Amendment on Trial 38
  • Four - A Prayer Goes to Court 66
  • Five - Before the Supreme Court 79
  • Six - A Landmark Desicion 98
  • Seven - Politics and Religion: A Potent Mix 125
  • Timeline 134
  • Notes 137
  • Further Information 146
  • Bibliography 150
  • Index 156
  • About the Author 160
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