Lee v. Weisman

Following is the case brief for Lee v. Weisman, United States Supreme Court, (1992)

Case summary for Lee v. Weisman:

  • Mr. Weisman brought suit in district court seeking a restraining order to prevent a rabbi from delivering prayer at his daughter’s middle school graduation.
  • Weisman claimed it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the federal district court denied the injunction.
  • Weisman later requested an injunction to the district court of Rhode Island and the injunction was granted. The Supreme Court of the United States granted Certiorari.
  • The Court held that the forced participation in the religious exercise of those attending a graduation, represents government coercion that violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Lee v. Weisman Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Principal Lee invited a rabbi to say prayers at his middle school’s graduation. One of the graduate’s fathers, Mr. Weisman, sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the rabbi from delivering prayer. The federal district court denied the request and as a result, the rabbi was able to deliver multiple prayers at the ceremony. After the graduation, Mr. Weisman requested an injunction to prevent clergy from delivering prayers at graduations and the district court granted the injunction.

Procedural History:

The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s opinion and the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Pursuant to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the government cannot have a clergy member to deliver prayers at a public school graduation ceremony.

Issue and Holding:

Does inviting a clergy member to pray at a public school graduation violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? Yes.

Judgment:

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals judgment.

Reasoning:

The Court held that under the Establishment Clause, the government may not force anyone to support or participate in religion or the exercise of religion. Since the students and their parents are obligated to attend the graduation, including the recitation of multiple prayers equates to governmental pressure to partake in prayer, a religious activity.

The Court held that the principal of the public school was acting on behalf of the state and that it violates precedent that prevents the government from composing prayers or directing students to participate.

The Court also held that the principal’s actions amounted to an attempt to use the state to enforce a religious practice, from the student’s view. Despite the school district’s argument that graduation attendance is optional, not attend is not a choice available to students since a school graduation is one of life’s landmark events.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Blackmun):

The government should refrain from both compelling religious practices and the endorsement, or participation in religion. Inviting a rabbi to pray at his public school’s graduation is a religious practice prohibited by the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Dissenting (Scalia):

Historically speaking, prayer has always been part of governmental ceremonies and as a result, there is no reason to hold public school graduation prayer unconstitutional when we recognize that prayers in governmental ceremonies are okay. The Court should not have found that students are obligated through psychological force to partake in prayers at their graduation because students may remain silent and not participate.

Significance:

This landmark case helped outline the Establishment Clause while preventing the government or school principal from forcefully requiring participation. It also distinguished the difference between settings regarding prayers led in a legislative session and the unconstitutionality of prayers in school.

Student Resources:

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/505/577.html
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/90-1014.ZS.html

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