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June 28, 1962, Vol. VII, No. 36
School Prayer Unconstitutional
Monday’s Supreme Court decision declaring recitation of the New York State Regents’ prayer in the public schools unconstitutional was largely due to the efforts of two Villagers — William J. Butler and Stanley Geller, attorneys for the plaintiffs.
On the recommendation of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Butler and Geller represented the five parents of children in the Union Free School District Number 9, New Hyde Park, New York, who protested the use of the prayer. The parents took the New Hyde Park Board to Education to court on the issue and lost in all three state courts — the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals. But Butler and Geller continued fighting the case for three years all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and finally, on Monday, their efforts were rewarded.
In a 6-1 decision, with Justice Hugo Black writing the majority opinion, the court ruled 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 of the U.S. Constitution.”
When asked their reaction to the decision, the two attorneys stated: “Religion as well as the Bill of Rights have benefited from the decision.” Butler is a director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Geller is president of the Village Independent Democrats. Both are with the law firm of Butler, Jablow and Geller. The plaintiffs were backed by the Anti-Defamation league of B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 24, 2009