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The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

CourtSpeak: Wallace v. Jaffree
Separation of Church and State Case (1985)

Justice John Paul Stevens (majority): “The legislative intent to return prayer to the public school is, of course, quite different from merely protecting every student’s right to engage in voluntary prayer during an appropriate moment of silence during the schoolday.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (concurring): “A state-sponsored moment of silence in the public schools is different from state-sponsored vocal prayer or Bible reading. First, a moment of silence is not inherently religious. Silence, unlike prayer or Bible reading, need not be associated with a religious exercise. Second, a pupil who participates in a moment of silence need not compromise his or her beliefs…. It is difficult to discern a serious threat to religious liberty from a room of silent, thoughtful schoolchildren.”

Chief Justice Warren Burger (dissenting): “Some who trouble to read the opinions in these cases will find it ironic—perhaps even bizarre—that on the very day we heard arguments in the cases, the Court’s session opened with an invocation for Divine protection.”

Justice William Rehnquist (dissenting): “It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history, but unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years.”



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