472 U.S. 38 (1985), 83-812, Wallace v. Jaffree

Docket Nº:No. 83-812
Citation:472 U.S. 38, 105 S.Ct. 2479, 86 L.Ed.2d 29, 53 U.S.L.W. 4665
Party Name:Wallace v. Jaffree
Case Date:June 04, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

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472 U.S. 38 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 2479, 86 L.Ed.2d 29, 53 U.S.L.W. 4665




No. 83-812

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1985

Argued December 4, 1984



In proceedings instituted in Federal District Court, appellees challenged the constitutionality of, inter alia, a 1981 Alabama Statute (§ 16-1-20.1) authorizing a 1-minute period of silence in all public schools "for meditation or voluntary prayer." Although finding that § 16-1-20.1 was an effort to encourage a religious activity, the District Court ultimately held that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit a State from establishing a religion. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Section 16-1-20.1 is a law respecting the establishment of religion, and thus violates the First Amendment. Pp. 48-61.

(a) The proposition that the several States have no greater power to restrain the individual freedoms protected by the First Amendment than does Congress is firmly embedded in constitutional jurisprudence. The First Amendment was adopted to curtail Congress' power to interfere with the individual's freedom to believe, to worship, and to express himself in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience, and the Fourteenth Amendment imposed the same substantive limitations on the States' power to legislate. The individual's freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. Moreover, the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. Pp. 48-55.

(b) One of the well-established criteria for determining the constitutionality of a statute under the Establishment Clause is that the statute must have a secular legislative purpose. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-613. The First Amendment requires that a statute must be invalidated if it is entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion. Pp. 55-56.

(c) The record here not only establishes that § 16-1-20.1's purpose was to endorse religion, it also reveals that the enactment of the statute was not motivated by any clearly secular purpose. In particular, [105 S.Ct. 2481] the statements of § 16-120.1's sponsor in the legislative record and in his

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testimony before the District Court indicate that the legislation was solely an "effort to return voluntary prayer" to the public schools. Moreover, such unrebutted evidence of legislative intent is confirmed by a consideration of the relationship between § 16-1-20.1 and two other Alabama statutes -- one of which, enacted in 1982 as a sequel to § 16-1-20.1, authorized teachers to lead "willing students" in a prescribed prayer, and the other of which, enacted in 1978 as § 16-1-20. l's predecessor, authorized a period of silence "for meditation" only. The State's endorsement, by enactment of § 16-1-20.1, of prayer activities at the beginning of each schoolday is not consistent with the established principle that the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion. Pp. 56-61.

705 F.2d 1526 and 713 F.2d 614, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 62. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 67. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 84, WHITE, J., post, p. 90, and REHNQUIST, J., post, p. 91, filed dissenting opinions.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

At an early stage of this litigation, the constitutionality of three Alabama statutes was questioned: (1) § 16-1-20, enacted in 1978, which authorized a 1-minute period of silence in all public schools "for meditation";1 (2) § 16-1-20.1, enacted in 1981, which authorized a period of silence "for meditation or voluntary prayer";2 and (3) § 16-1-20.2, enacted in 1982, which authorized teachers to lead "willing students" in a prescribed prayer to "Almighty God . . . the Creator and Supreme Judge of the world."3

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At the preliminary injunction stage of this case, the District Court distinguished § 16-1-20 from the other two statutes. It then held that there was "nothing wrong" with § 16-1-20,4 but that §§ 16-1-20.1 and 16-1-20.2 were both invalid because the sole purpose of both was "an effort on the part of the State of Alabama to encourage a religious activity."5 After the trial on the merits, the District Court did not [105 S.Ct. 2482] change its interpretation of these two statutes, but held that they were constitutional because, in its opinion, Alabama has the power to establish a state religion if it chooses to do so.6

The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court's initial interpretation of the purpose of both § 16-1-20.1 and § 16-1-20.2, and held them both unconstitutional.7 We have already affirmed the Court of Appeals' holding with respect to § 16-1-20.2.8 Moreover, appellees have not questioned the holding that § 16-1-20 is valid.9 Thus, the narrow question for decision is whether § 16-1-20.1, which authorizes a period of silence for "meditation or voluntary prayer," is a

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law respecting the establishment of religion within the meaning of the First Amendment.10


Appellee Ishmael Jaffree is a resident of Mobile County, Alabama. On May 28, 1982, he filed a complaint on behalf of three of his minor children; two of them were second-grade students and the third was then in kindergarten. The complaint named members of the Mobile County School Board, various school officials, and the minor plaintiffs' three teachers as defendants.11 The complaint alleged that the appellees brought the action

seeking principally a declaratory judgment and an injunction restraining the Defendants and each of them from maintaining or allowing the maintenance of regular religious prayer services or other forms of religious observances in the Mobile County Public Schools in violation of the First Amendment as made applicable to states by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.12

The complaint further alleged that two of the children had been subjected to various acts of religious indoctrination "from the beginning of the school year in September, 1981";13 that the defendant teachers had "on a daily basis" led their classes in saying certain prayers in unison;14 that the minor children were exposed to ostracism from their peer group class members if they did not participate;15 and that Ishmael Jaffree had repeatedly but unsuccessfully requested that the devotional services be stopped. The original complaint made no reference to any Alabama statute.

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On June 4, 1982, appellees filed an amended complaint seeking class certification,16 and on June 30, 1982, they filed a second amended complaint naming the Governor of Alabama and various state officials as additional defendants. In that amendment, the appellees challenged the constitutionality of three Alabama statutes: §§ 16-1-20, 16-1-20.1, and 16-l-20.2.17

On August 2, 1982, the District Court held an evidentiary hearing on appellees' motion for a preliminary injunction. At that hearing, State Senator Donald G. Holmes testified that he was the "prime sponsor" of the bill that was enacted in 1981 as § 16-l-20.1.18 He explained that the bill was an "effort to return voluntary prayer to our public schools . . . it is a beginning and a step in the right direction." [105 S.Ct. 2483]19 Apart from the purpose to return voluntary prayer to public school, Senator Holmes unequivocally testified that he had "no other purpose in mind."20 A week after the hearing, the District Court entered a preliminary injunction.21 The court held that appellees were likely to prevail on the merits because the enactment of §§ 16-1-20.1 and 16-1-20.2 did not reflect a clearly secular purpose.22

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In November 1982, the District Court held a 4-day trial on the merits. The evidence related primarily to the 1981-1982 academic year -- the year after the enactment of § 16-120.1 and prior to the enactment of § 16-1-20.2. The District Court found that, during that academic year, each of the minor plaintiffs' teachers had led classes in prayer activities, even after being informed of appellees' objections to these activities.23

In its lengthy conclusions of law, the District Court reviewed a number of opinions of this Court interpreting the

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Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and then embarked on a fresh examination of the question whether the First Amendment [105 S.Ct. 2484] imposes any barrier to the establishment of an official religion by the State of Alabama. After reviewing at length what it perceived to be newly discovered historical evidence, the District Court concluded that

the establishment clause of the first amendment to the United States Constitution does not prohibit the state from establishing a religion.24

In a separate opinion, the District Court dismissed appellees' challenge to the three Alabama statutes because of a failure to state any claim for which relief could be granted. The court's dismissal of this challenge was also based on its conclusion that the Establishment Clause did not bar the States from establishing a religion.25

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The Court of Appeals consolidated the two cases; not surprisingly, it reversed. The Court of Appeals noted that this Court had considered and had rejected the historical arguments

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that the District Court found persuasive, and that the District Court had misapplied the doctrine of stare decisis.26 The Court of Appeals then held [105 S.Ct. 2485] that the teachers' religious activities violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.27 With respect to § 16-1-20.1 and § 16-1-20.2, the Court of Appeals...

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