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Wallace v. Jaffree

Wallace v. Jaffree was a 1985 US Supreme Court case, deciding on the issue of silent school prayer. An Alabama law had required that each school day commence with a moment of “silent meditation or voluntary prayer,” and a parent of student sued the state, claiming that the law violated the Establishment Clause. The plaintiff had complained that the law instituted compulsory prayer and exposed students to religious indoctrination. The District Court allowed the practice, but the Court of Appeals found the practice to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the Alabama law violated constitutional principle.

From the court opinion:

Section 16-1-20.1 is a law respecting the establishment of religion and thus violates the First Amendment.

"(a)The proposition that the several States have no greater power to restrain the individual freedoms protected by the First Amendment than does Congress is firmly embedded in constitutional jurisprudence. The First Amendment was adopted to curtail Congress' power to interfere with the individual's freedom to believe, to worship, and to express himself in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience..."

"(b)One of the well-established criteria for determining the constitutionality of a statute under the Establishment Clause is that the statute must have a secular legislative purpose. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613. The First Amendment requires that a statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion."

"(c)The record here not only establishes that 16-1-20.1's purpose was to endorse religion, it also reveals that the enactment of the statute was not motivated by any clearly secular purpose." "...The State's endorsement, by enactment of 16-1-20.1, of prayer activities at the beginning of each schoolday is not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion."