What Was Lee V. Weisman About?


Quick Answer

The U.S. Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman revolved around public schools in Rhode Island that included local clergy in graduation ceremonies for middle schools and high schools. Justices upheld five to four that the practices of the public schools violated the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment that prohibited the government from espousing one religion over another.

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Full Answer

Weisman, the father of student Deborah Weisman at Nathan Bishop Middle School, sued the school in response to the school's use of a rabbi to pray during graduation. Petitioner Lee, the principal of the school, handed the rabbi a pamphlet regarding prayers at civic ceremonies, and Lee informed the religious leader that prayers should be nonsectarian in nature. Weisman maintained the use of a rabbi violated the First Amendment, and lower courts agreed.

The Supreme Court stated in its decision that forcing students to choose between a graduation ceremony or going against someone's religious beliefs amounts to coercive behavior. Justices of the majority also felt students who participated in the religious aspect of the ceremony appear as if they approve of the religious doctrine behind the prayer.

Lee v. Weisman was argued Nov. 6, 1991, and decided June 24, 1992. The court upheld that Lee is a ward of the state in his capacity as leader of a public school, and he can't advocate one religion over another.

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