Actually, so few agreed with the Court’s claims of “universally recognized” principles that the U. S. Congress even convened extensive hearings to deal with the widespread public outrage. 44 Nonetheless, in an attempt to purvey credibility, the Court invoked James Madison’s statement that:
Attempts to enforce acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of citizens tend to enervate weaken the laws in general and to slacken the bands of society. The Court equated school prayer to “acts obnoxious to so great proportions of citizens.” This, too, was a patent misrepresentation, evidenced by the fact that so many States permitted school prayers. In fact, the next year the Court weakened its own assertion when it acknowledged that: Only last year 1962 an official survey of the country indicated that less than 3% profess no religion whatever.
With such a strong religious adherence in this country, there simply was no factual basis for the Court’s assertion that the generic acknowledgment of God embodied in the Engel prayer was something obnoxious to the mass of citizens. In concluding its decision, the Engel Court claimed that to allow this voluntary prayer was to establish an “official state religion” a conclusion strongly objected to by Justice Stewart: With all respect, I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an “official religion” is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our Nation. For we deal here not with the establishment of a state church, which would, of course, be constitutionally impermissible, but with whether school children who want to begin their day by joining in prayer must be prohibited from doing so. The Engel decision the second occasion in which the Supreme Court had struck down a voluntary student religious activity was based on a series of poorly grounded arguments punctuated by many erroneous and ill-advised statements.