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The Guidelines recommend that public prayers at nonsectarian civic ceremonies be composed with "inclusiveness and sensitivity," though they acknowledge that "[p]rayer of any kind may be inappropriate on some civic occasions." App. The principal gave Rabbi Gutterman the pamphlet before the graduation, and advised him the invocation and benediction should be nonsectarian. Rabbi Gutterman's prayers were as follows: INVOCATION God of the Free, Hope of the Brave: For the legacy of America where diversity is celebrated and the rights of minorities are protected, we [p582] thank You. For the political process of America in which all its citizens may participate, for its court system where all may seek justice, we thank You.May these young men and women grow up to enrich it. May those we honor this morning always turn to it in trust. May the graduates of Nathan Bishop Middle School so live that they might help to share it.
We give thanks to You, Lord, for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this special, happy occasion. [p583] The record in this case is sparse in many respects, and we are unfamiliar with any fixed custom or practice at middle school graduations, referred to by the school district as "promotional exercises." We are not so constrained with reference to high schools, however.
High school graduations are such an integral part of American cultural life that we can with confidence describe their customary features, confirmed by aspects of the record and by the parties' representations at oral argument.
A school official, the principal, decided that an invocation and a benediction should be given; this is a choice attributable to the State, and, from a constitutional perspective, it is as if a state statute decreed that the prayers must occur.
The principal chose the religious participant, here a rabbi, and that choice is also attributable to the State.
Happy families give thanks for seeing their children achieve an important milestone.
Send Your blessings upon the teachers and administrators who helped prepare them.Subsequently, Weisman sought a permanent injunction barring Lee and other petitioners, various Providence public school officials, from inviting clergy to deliver invocations and benedictions at future graduations. The embarrassment and intrusion of the religious exercise cannot be refuted by arguing that the prayers are of a character, since that is an affront to the Rabbi and those for whom the prayers have meaning, and since any intrusion was both real and a violation of the objectors' rights. In this society, high school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions, and a student is not free to absent herself from the exercise in any real sense of the term "voluntary." Also not dispositive is the contention that prayers are an essential part of these ceremonies because, for many persons, the occasion would lack meaning without the recognition that human achievements cannot be understood apart from their spiritual essence. The atmosphere at a state legislature's opening, where adults are free to enter and leave with little comment and for any number of reasons, cannot compare with the constraining potential of the one school event most important for the student to attend. School principals in the public school system of the city of Providence, Rhode Island, are permitted to invite members of the clergy to offer invocation and benediction prayers as part of the formal graduation ceremonies for middle schools and for high schools.It appears likely that such prayers will be conducted at Deborah's high school graduation. (a) This Court need not revisit the questions of the definition and scope of the principles governing the extent of permitted accommodation by the State for its citizens' religious beliefs and practices, for the controlling precedents as they relate to prayer and religious exercise in primary and secondary public schools compel the holding here. This position fails to acknowledge that what [p579] for many was a spiritual imperative was for the Weismans religious conformance compelled by the State. (e) Inherent differences between the public school system and a session of a state legislature distinguish this case from 463 U. The question before us is whether including clerical members who offer prayers as part of the official school graduation ceremony is consistent with the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, provisions the Fourteenth Amendment makes applicable with full force to the States and their school districts.The District Court enjoined petitioners from continuing the practice at issue on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Including clergy who offer prayers as part of an official public school graduation ceremony is forbidden by the Establishment Clause. Thus, the Court will not reconsider its decision in 403 U. It also gives insufficient recognition to the real conflict of conscience faced by a student who would have to choose whether to miss graduation or conform to the state-sponsored practice in an environment where the risk of compulsion is especially high. [p581] I A Deborah Weisman graduated from Nathan Bishop Middle School, a public school in Providence, at a formal ceremony in June, 1989. For many years, it has been the policy of the Providence School Committee and the Superintendent of Schools to permit principals to invite members of the clergy to give invocations and benedictions at middle school and high school graduations. (b) State officials here direct the performance of a formal religious exercise at secondary schools' promotional and graduation ceremonies.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.The graduates now need strength and guidance for the future; help them to understand that we are not complete with academic knowledge alone.We must each strive to fulfill what You require of us all: to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly.