"We think that, by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents’ prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York’s program of daily classroom invocation of God's blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity."

Justice Black, speaking for the majority

This case explores the legal concept of freedom of religion. 

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to religious worship yet also shields Americans from the establishment of state-sponsored religion. Courts are often asked to decide tough cases when there is a conflict between the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment.

The United States has a long history of infusing religion into its political practices. For instance, “In God We Trust” is printed on currency. Congress opens each session with a prayer. Before testifying in court, citizens typically pledge an oath to God that they will tell the truth. Traditionally, presidents are sworn in by placing their hand on a Bible. Congress employs a chaplain, and Supreme Court sessions are opened with the invocation “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”

Public schools are bedrock institutions of U.S. democracy, where the teaching of citizenship, rights, and freedoms are common. This is a case about whether public schools may also play a role in teaching faith to God through the daily recitation of a government-endorsed, teacher-led prayer.



This section is for students. Use the links below to download classroom-ready .PDFs of case resources and activities. 


About the Case

Full Case Summaries

A thorough summary of case facts, issues, relevant constitutional provisions/statutes/precedents, arguments for each side, decision, and case impact.

Case Background and Vocabulary

Important background information and related vocabulary terms.

Visuals

Decision


Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

This section is for teachers.

Use the links below to access:

  • student versions of the activities in .PDF and Word formats
  • how to differentiate and adapt the materials
  • how to scaffold the activities
  • how to extend the activities
  • technology suggestions
  • answers to select activities  

About the Case


Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

Teacher Resources

Teaching Strategies Used

Landmark Cases Glossary

The LandmarkCases.org glossary compiles all of the important vocab terms from case materials. It is provided as a view-only Google Sheet.

Glossary

Planning Time and Activities

If you have one day . . .

  • Read the background summary (•••, ••, •) and answer the questions.
  • Complete the Classifying Arguments Activity. Discuss which arguments the students find most convincing.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have two days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first day (excluding the homework).
  • Complete the Predicting the Outcome Activity
  • Complete the Photograph Analysis Activity
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have three days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first and second days.
  • Complete the Mini-Moot Court Activity: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000)

If you have four days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first, second, and third days.
  • Complete the Political Cartoon Analysis Activity
  • Complete the Applying Precedents Activity Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014)

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