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 state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.
In the public school system, principals were permitted to invite members of the clergy to offer invocation and benediction prayers as part of formal school graduation ceremonies. Respondent parent, whose daughter was scheduled to graduate from middle school, sought a temporary restraining order in the district court to prohibit school officials from including invocation or benediction in the graduation ceremony. The Court denied the motion for lack of adequate time for consideration. The parent then amended the complaint, seeking a permanent injunction barring the officials from inviting the clergy to deliver invocations and benedictions at future graduations, which the district court granted. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed.
Is the inclusion of invocation and benediction prayers as part of formal school graduation ceremonies a violation of Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
The Court affirmed, holding that including clerical members who offered prayers as part of the official school graduation ceremony was inconsistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which the Fourteenth Amendment made applicable with full force to the states and their school districts.