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WIEST ET AL. v. MT. LEBANON SCHOOL DISTRICT (05/22/74)

decided: May 22, 1974.

WIEST ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
MT. LEBANON SCHOOL DISTRICT



Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, July T., 1973, No. 892, in case of Walter E. Wiest, Francine Helfman, individually and as parent and natural guardian of David E. Helfman, and Edith Simonds v. Mt. Lebanon School District, a municipal corporation.

COUNSEL

Marjorie H. Matson and Thomas Hollander, for appellants.

Donald C. Bush, with him James C. Kletter, and Anderson, Moreland & Bush, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Manderino joins in this concurring opinion. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy.

Author: Jones

[ 457 Pa. Page 168]

On April 26, 1973, a complaint in equity was filed by fifty-four plaintiffs seeking to enjoin the Mt. Lebanon School District from including an invocation and benediction at the graduation ceremonies of Mt. Lebanon

[ 457 Pa. Page 169]

High School scheduled for June 12, 1973.*fn1 Ten days earlier at a regular public meeting of the Board of Directors of the School District a commencement program which provided for an audible invocation and benediction had unanimously been adopted. The case was submitted as a case stated to a specially convened three-judge court sitting en banc. Briefs were filed and oral argument was held, and on May 18, 1973, an adjudication was made dismissing the complaint. This direct appeal followed, and we now affirm.

The stipulation of facts, in addition to the adoption of a commencement program by the School Board, shows the following: The Mt. Lebanon School District is established pursuant to the Public School Code of 1949, P. L. 30, 24 P.S. ยง 1-102 et seq., and provides public education within Mt. Lebanon Township. The commencement exercise is a sixty-year old tradition which is held after all courses of study by the graduating seniors are completed. Attendance at the commencement exercise is voluntary, but usually more than ninety percent of the graduating class attends. Those who do not attend may obtain their diplomas at the high

[ 457 Pa. Page 170]

    school principal's office any time after the day of commencement.

Appellants premise their claim for relief on the free exercise clause of the first amendment to the United States Constitution, the establishment clause of the first amendment,*fn2 and article I, section 3, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. We find that the court below properly applied these constitutional provisions to the facts of this case and did not err in dismissing appellants' complaint.

I.

The free exercise clause recognizes the value of religious training, teaching and observance, and in particular, "the right of every person to freely choose his own course with reference thereto, free of any compulsion from the state." This clause acts to withdraw from legislative power, "the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions thereof by civil authority. Hence it is necessary in a free exercise case for one to show the coercive effect of the enactment as it operates against him in the practice of his religion." Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 222-23 (1963).

In a case stated we are confined to the facts presented to the court by the parties, and we cannot go outside of the case stated for its facts, nor assume them by way of inference. Commonwealth v. Howard, 149 Pa. 302,

[ 457 Pa. Page 17124]

A. 308 (1892); Kelly v. Urban, 136 Pa. Superior Ct. 20, 7 A.2d 12 (1939). Those facts show that attendance at the graduation ceremonies was purely voluntary. There was no allegation or showing that the inclusion of an invocation and benediction in the commencement program would have any coercive effect upon appellants in the practice of their ...


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