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LEE v WEISMAN

U.S. No. 90-1014


Free exercise of religion Rabbi in Graduation
FACTS:
During the commencement exercise of Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, Rhode
Island, Principal Robert E. Lee invited a Jewish Rabbi to deliver a prayer. The principal,
beforehand, handed out pamphlets and advised the rabbi that the prayer must be nonsectarian.
The Rabbi began the public school commencement ceremony by giving thanks to God for the
legacy of America where diversity is celebrated He continued, O God, we are grateful for
the learning which we have celebrated on this joyous commencementwe give thanks to you,
Lord, for keeping us alive, sustaining us and allowing us to reach this special, happy
occasion. Deborah Weisman, a student of the school, objects to the graduation prayer. Her
father, Daniel Weisman agreed. Though the Weisman family was Jewish, they believed the
Rabbis prayer on behalf of the government-funded school was a violation of the First
Amendments Establishment Clause, which holds, Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion The school district asserted that the nonsectarian prayer did not
endorse any religious viewpoint, and that the Establishment Clause should not prohibit such an
activity.
ISSUES:
Whether including clerical members who offer prayer as part of the official school graduation
ceremony is consistent with the Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
HELD:
NO. The Court held that schools may not promote religious exercises either directly or through
an invited guest at graduation ceremonies.
The Court found that the Establishment Clause forbids government from coercing people into
participating in a religious activity. Forcing students to choose between attending a graduation
ceremony containing religious elements with which they disagree or avoiding the offending
practices by not attending their graduation ceremony was inherently coercive and unlawful. The
Court found that students who do attend are exposed to subtle coercion to appear as though
they approve of or are participating in the prayer.
"The principle that government may accommodate the free exercise of religion does not
supersede the fundamental limitations imposed by the Establishment Clause. 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 religion or religious faith, or tends to do so."

Prepared by: Juan Samuel Ismael Loyola