The Burger Court (1969–86)

First Amendment

How did the Burger Court rule on a moment of silence law in public schools?

The Burger Court ruled 6–3 in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) that Alabama’s moment of silence law violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which is designed to ensure separation of church and state. The Alabama legislature had a law that provided students in Alabama with a one-minute period of silence or “meditation.” A few years later, the legislature amended the statute to provide the one-minute period for “meditation or voluntary prayer.” The sponsor of the new legislation said that the purpose of the law was “an effort to return voluntary prayer” to the public schools. The majority of the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the law violated the Establishment Clause because the clear purpose of the law was religious rather than secular. The law represented an endorsement of religion that was “not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion.”


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