Sup.Ct. 2649 (1992)
Lewis Roca Rothgerber Religious Institutions
Group gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the
Ethics and Public Policy Center which provided the following case commentary taken from Terry Eastland, Religious
Liberty in the Supreme Court: The Cases That Define
the Debate over Church and State (1993).
Supreme Court addressed questions of school prayer for the
first time in 1962, holding in Engel v. Vitale that
a state-sponsored prayer used in public schools violated
the Constitution. Thirty years later, in Lee v. Weisman,
the Court extended the principle of Engel to hold
that a state may not sponsor prayers at middle and high
school graduation ceremonies.
case arose from Providence, Rhode Island, whose middle and
high school principals invited members of the clergy from
around the city to give invocation and benediction prayers
as part of their schools' graduation ceremonies. Robert
E. Lee, principal of Nathan Bishop Middle School, invited
Rabbi Leslie Gutterman of Temple Beth El to offer the prayers
at his school's 1989 graduation ceremony. Principal Lee
gave Rabbi Gutterman a pamphlet containing guidelines for
the composition of the prayers and advised him that the
invocation and benediction should be nonsectarian. The prayers
that the rabbi said at the ceremony, which took place on
school premises on June 29, 1989, were of that nature.
days before the ceremony Daniel Weisman, whose daughter
Deborah was in the graduating class, sought in her behalf
a temporary restraining order in federal district court
to prohibit school officials from including a prayer in
the graduation ceremony. The motion was denied, but in July
1989 Daniel Weisman amended his complaint, seeking a permanent
injunction against including prayers in Providence's middle
and high school graduation ceremonies. The district court
held that the graduation-ceremony prayers were unconstitutional,
and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.
Weisman prevailed in the Supreme Court by a 5-to-4 vote.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Harry Blackmun,
John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, and David Souter,
wrote for the Court. The case produced three other opinions:
a concurrence by Justice Blackmun, a concurrence by Justice
Souter, and a dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice
Kennedy's opinion for the Court, Justice Souter's concurrence,
and Justice Scalia's dissent are presented here. They are
followed by editorial responses from the Washington Post
and the Dallas Morning News.
was widely expected that the Court would use the Lee
case to reconsider its approach, laid down in Lemon v.
Kurtzman, to establishment questions. That did not happen.
Of interest, however, is not only the argument that took
place between Justices Kennedy and Scalia, in their opinions,
but also the inquiry into the original meaning of the no-establishment
provision undertaken by Justice Souter in his opinion, which
seeks to answer (then Associate) Justice William Rehnquist's
lengthy dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985).
in Lee v. Weisman, decided June 24, 1992, were Chief
Justice William H. Rehnquist and Associate Justices Harry
A. Blackmun, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin
Scalia, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas,
and Byron R. White.