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Recent Court Decisions on the Separation of Church and State


It is unconstitutional for students to see the Ten Commandments at school because they might read, meditate upon, respect, or obey them.
Stone v. Graham, 1980; Ring v. Grand Forks Public School District, 1980; Lanner v. Wimmer, 1981

It is unconstitutional for a kindergarten class to ask whose birthday is celebrated at Christmas.
Florey v. Sioux City Falls School District, 1979

Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and press do not apply to students and teachers if the topic is religious.
Stein v. Oshinskey, 1965; Collins v. Chandler Unified School District, 1981; Bishop v Aronov, 1991; Duran v. Nitche, 1991

A verbal prayer in school is unconstitutional, even if it is voluntary and non-denominational.
Engel v. Vitale, 1962; Abington v. Schempp, 1963; Commissioner of Education v. School committee of Leyden, 1971

It is unconstitutional for students to say an audible prayer of thanks over their lunch.
Reed v. van Hoven, 1965

The voluntary singing of a school song as part of an extracurricular activity was declared unconstitutional because the song promoted honesty, truth, courage and faith in the form of a "prayer".
Doe v. Aldine Independent School District, 1982

It is unconstitutional for a war memorial to be in the shape of a cross.
Lowe v. City of Eugene, 1969

A public cemetery cannot have a planter in the shape of a cross, because if someone were to see it, it could result in "emotional distress" causing an "injury-in-fact".
Warsaw v. Tahachapi, 1990

The Ten Commandments may not be displayed in a public courthouse, even though they are carved in stone as part of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Harvey v. Cobb County, 1993

If a student addresses an assembly of students, he is considered to be a government representative, and as such, it is unconstitutional for that student to engage in prayer.
Harris v. Joint School District, 1994

If a legislator introduces a bill which is constitutionally acceptable in its wording, the bill becomes unconstitutional if it pertains to a religious activity.
Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985

It is unconstitutional for a public schoolroom library to contain books about Christianity, or for a teacher to be seen with a personal copy of the Bible while at school.
Roberts v. Madigan, 1990

It is unconstitutional for a Board of Education to use the word "God" in any of its official writings.
Ohio v. Whisner, 1976

A city seal may not contain any symbol that depicts its religious heritage or any religious element of the community.
Robinson v. City of Edmond, 1985; Haris v. City of Zion, 1991; Kuhn v, City of Rolling Meadows, 1991; Friedman v. Board of County Commissioners, 1985

School officials may not be publicly praised or recognized in an open community meeting if the meeting is sponsored by a religious organization.
Jane Doe v. Sant Fe Independent Scool District, 1995

No artwork - even an historical classic - can be displayed in public schools if it depicts something considered religious.
Washegesic v. Bloomingdale Public Schools, 1993

A public school graduation program can not contain an opening or closing prayer.
Harris v. Joint School District, 1994; Gearon v. Loudoun County School district, 1986; Lee v. Weisman, 1992; Kay v. Douglas School District, 1986; Graham v. Central Community School District, 1985

It is unconstitutional to display a nativity scene on public property unless it is surrounded by sufficient secular displays so that it does not have a religious appearance.
County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 1989

Because a lawyer mentioned a Bible verse in the courtroom, a jury sentence was overturned for a man convicted of clubbing a 71-year-old woman to death.
Commonwealth v. Chambers, 1991

A federal judge in Texas prohibited a government official from conducting an anti-drug rally at a public school because the official was also known as a Christian minister, thus disqualifying him from delivering a secular anti-drug message.
Alexander v. Nacogdoches School District, 1991

A Florida judge ordered the courthouse copy of the Ten Commandments to be covered during a murder trial for fear that jurors would be prejudiced against the defendant if they saw the command "Do not kill".
State of Florida v. George T. Broxson, 1992



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