2012 Marks 50th Anniversary of Engel v. Vitale - Expert's Research Focuses on Battle Over School Prayer
Source Newsroom: Canisius College
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee and we beg thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” - Official school prayer
Newswise — It is the 50th anniversary of the Engel v. Vitale decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared unconstitutional the inclusion of state-sponsored school prayer as a part of instruction in public schools.
In his book, The Battle Over School Prayer: How Engel v. Vitale Changed America, Canisius College History Professor, Bruce J. Dierenfield, PhD, sets his account of the decision in the larger historical and political context, citing battles over a wide range of religious activities in public schools throughout American history.
Dierenfield takes readers behind the scenes at school board meetings and court deliberations, and reveals the large price paid by the plaintiffs and their children, who were harassed both during and after the trial.
Finally, Dierenfield illustrates how the case has had a polarizing effect, reverberated through subsequent decades and gained intensity. Brought about by five Nassau County, NY families, Engel v. Vitale determined that it was unconstitutional for the New York State Board of Regents to compose a non-denominational prayer and mandate that it be recited each day in public schools. The plaintiffs in the case (Engel), sued the Herricks Board of Education (Vitale) and argued that the prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." The lower courts upheld the constitutionality of the prayer, stating that students were not forced to participate. But by a vote of 6-1, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the lower courts and declared the New York prayer violated the First Amendment rights of petitioners.
The Battle Over School Prayer is Dierenfield's fourth book. He recently appeared as an expert on the PBS American Experience Series, God in America. The six-hour series is a co-production of American Experience and FRONTLINE. He appeared on a second series, entitled "The Lord is not on Trial Here Today," which aired in March, 2011.
Dierenfield authored or co-authored The Federal Role and Activities in Energy Research and Development, 1946-1980: An Historical Summary (1983); Keeper of the Rules: Congressman Howard W. Smith of Virginia (1987); and The Civil Rights Movement (2004). He is currently working on two new books about the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union and African American leadership.
Dierenfield is director of the Canisius College All-College Honors Program and a Peter Canisius Distinguished Teaching Professor. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of St. Olaf College and holds a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia.
To speak to Dierenfield, contact Eileen Herbert in the Canisius College Office of Public Relations at (716) 888-2791.
Canisius College is one of 28 Catholic, Jesuit colleges in the nation and the premier private college in Western New York. Canisius prepares leaders, intelligent, caring, faithful individuals, able to pursue and promote excellence in their professions, communities and service to humanity.