Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

WOOD v. MT. LEBANON TWP. SCH. DIST.

June 1, 1972

Cyrus F. WOOD and Dorothy J. Brecher, individually and as parent and natural guardian of Amy Brecher, Plaintiffs,
v.
MT. LEBANON TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Defendant, Albert B. Winschel et al., Intervening Defendants


Gourley, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

This is a civil rights proceeding in which jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1343(3). The Court has conducted a full and complete hearing and has granted motions allowing the intervention of additional parties.

 Plaintiffs assert that a violation of their constitutional rights will occur if defendant is not restrained from permitting or directing the pronouncement of an invocation and benediction at high school graduation ceremonies to be conducted June 7, 1972. Specifically, plaintiffs assert that having an invocation and a benediction as parts of the graduation ceremony amounts to establishment of religion, impairment of freedom of religion, and an improper use of tax monies.

 If, however, the Court is in error in this conclusion, there is an alternate basis for reaching the same result and disposing of the case on the merits.

 It has been established that the graduation ceremony to be held June 7, 1972 follows and is completely separate and apart from all formal requirements of the school district for graduation. All instruction, examinations, and training will be concluded as of 1:00 P.M., E.D.S.T., on the 7th day of June. Moreover, and this is most significant, the graduation ceremonies are purely voluntary; there is absolutely no compulsion attached to attending the graduation to be eligible to receive a diploma. Indeed, it has been established that the minor plaintiff, Amy Brecher, signed a brief statement, never retracted or revoked, evidencing her intention not to attend the ceremonies. She and some 47 other students plan not to attend for one reason or another; yet, assuming satisfactory completion of all classroom and academic requirements, they will receive all the rights and privileges bestowed on the other 688 seniors. Thus it appears to the Court that graduation ceremonies at Mt. Lebanon Township School District are just that -- i.e., they are ceremonial and are in fact not a part of the formal, day-to-day routine of the school curriculum to which is attached compulsory attendance. *fn1"

 It is this aspect which distinguishes the present case from Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 82 S. Ct. 1261, 8 L. Ed. 2d 601 (1961) which held that the saying of a state composed prayer was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. What the Court struck down in Engel was prayer, albeit denominationally neutral, which was thrust upon students through the use of the public school system. The Court pointed out that ". . . we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government." Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 425, 82 S. Ct. at 1264.

 From the teachings of Engel v. Vitale, supra, the Court is well aware that the Establishment Clause is violated even though there is no direct government compulsion. But we believe the fact that the graduation ceremony is not compulsory strips the function of any semblance of governmental establishment or even condonation. In the view of this Court, having a member of the clergy, who is in no way compensated by the defendant, pronounce an invocation or benediction at graduation ceremonies which are totally separate from the school routine, does not violate any of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. Any use of public tax monies in connection with the invocation and benediction appears to be de minimis. In short, plaintiffs would not be harmed monetarily by the brief moments consumed by the invocation and benediction. O'Hair v. Paine, 312 F. Supp. 434 (D.C. Tex. 1969), aff'd per curiam 432 F.2d 66 (5th Cir. 1970), appeal dismissed 397 U.S. 531, 90 S. Ct. 1259, 25 L. Ed. 2d 528 (1970), cert. denied 401 U.S. 955, 91 S. Ct. 974, 28 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1971).

 We think it clear that no infraction of any First Amendment rights will occur because of the opening and closing remarks of clergymen at the graduation exercises. Because there is no compulsion to attend, there is no coercion which would constitute an abridgement of the Free Exercise Clause. Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L. Ed. 2d 844 (1962). And finally, even though it arguably may be said that having an invocation and benediction are governmental activities which benefit religion, such activity is permissible if the primary purpose therefor is secular rather than religious and its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion. O'Hair v. Paine, supra. We must conclude under the facts presented here that the ceremony to be held is primarily secular and that the test as stated above is met. Thus, what we have here in no way constitutes religious instruction.

 Accordingly, it is the considered judgment of this Court that plaintiffs' action should be dismissed and the request for preliminary and permanent injunctions should be denied.

 Findings of fact and conclusions of law have not been separately stated but are included in the body of the foregoing opinion as specifically authorized by Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 An appropriate order is ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.