Teaching Supreme Court Cases: Prayer in Schools and the First Amendment

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This blog and the accompanying resource are part of a monthly series on Shaped providing teachers for Grades 6–12 with downloadable U.S. history classroom resources and discussion topics.

In 1985, the Supreme Court listened to arguments over a contentious issue in the state of Alabama in the case Wallace v. Jaffree. Teachers had set aside time each day for a moment of "silent meditation or voluntary prayer," but a parent of three children enrolled at a Mobile, Alabama, school sued the state, complaining that the law amounted to forcing prayer upon the students.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the Alabama law was unconstitutional, noting that the state statute was designed to endorse religion and was "not motivated by any clear secular purpose." The ruling declared that a state law authorizing a moment of silence for prayer violated the First Amendment.

Have your students debate and discuss the role of the First Amendment in this Supreme Court case—as well as the case's implications today—with this Wallace v. Jaffree lesson plan.

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Learn more about HMH Social Studies, including the Judicial Inquiries program for middle and high school students to study 25 landmark Supreme Court cases that continue to impact their lives.

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