In 1992, a decision was made in the Lee v. Weisman case. This case would forever change school prayer. School prayer had never been a major issue, until a Jewish rabbi was invited to a school by a principal and was asked to deliver a prayer in a graduation ceremony. The parents of Deborah Weisman (a graduating middle school student) felt as if it was inappropriate for a Jewish rabbi to deliver a prayer during the ceremony. The graduation did proceed, as well as the prayer from the Jewish rabbi. Thereafter, the Weisman’s went ahead and followed through with their litigationin attempt to prohibit prayer in their daughter’s future high school graduation (Broyles, 1993).
Lee v. Weisman (1992)
The educator involved in this case was a Rhode Island school principal, Principal Robert Lee. In 1989, Principal Robert Lee invited Jewish Rabbi Gutterman to deliver a prayer at his middle school graduation, since the Rhode Island School Committee and Superintendent allows principles to have graduation ceremonies with a member of the clergy (Broyles, 1993). This lead to a major change in the separation of church and state.
The case was first presented in 1989 when a rabbi was invited to a middle school graduation to deliver a prayer. Not until 1992 did it receive some sort of outcome. As per the United States Supreme Court school prayer violated the Establishment Clause, as well as provided no guidance, or at best, inadequate guidance determining the constitutionality of prayer given by students at school functions (Durden, 2001, para. 1).
It may seem difficult to balance out the concept of separation of church and state and still value religious diversity. However, it is not impossible. It is important that educators are aware of all the legalities involved with separation of church and state. This will allow teachers to understand what is permitted versus what is not permitted. Furthermore, schools and teachers can sponsor the study of religion but cannot practice a specific religion, they may expose students to all religious views but cannot impose a particular view, as well as educate all students in what all people believe but not teach students on what to believe in (Gollnick & Chinn, 2013).
As an educator I would have handled the situation a bit different to how Principal Robert Lee did. In 1989, the Rhode Island School Committee and Superintendent allowed principles to have a member of the clergy join in prayer for a graduation. Therefore, it was thought to be okay to go on with the ceremony as usual. However, Principal Robert Lee had not encountered a situation like this and should have taken the time to re-think the situation. Perhaps he could have been a little more considerate towards others beliefs. Knowing that this student and her parents felt uncomfortable about the situation he could have asked Rabbi Gutterman to opt out of the ceremony, but instead he did not.
References Broyles, K. (1993). Establishment of religion and high school graduation ceremonies: Lee v. Weisman, 112S. Ct. 2649 (1992). Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 16279-287 Durden, S. M. (2001). In the wake of lee v. weisman: the future of school graduation prayer is uncertain at best. Brigham Young University Education & Law Journal, (1), 111 Gollnick, D., & Chinn, P. (2013). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (9th ed.). Pearson