After World War II, the United States experienced another period of
intense concern about the spread of communism abroad and fear of subversion at home. The
Federal Government enacted a program requiring all employees to take loyalty oaths, while
U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed there were communist agents in government.
Alleged communist spies” were called forth to give testimony before a Senate
subcommittee chaired by McCarthy. These hearings had the impact of sensational court
dramas that filled the media, while the deployment of U.S. soldiers to fight communist
aggression in Korea made the threat of communism at home all the more palpable. In this
context, some States enacted a variety of programs to encourage patriotism, moral character,
and other values of good citizenship. They also began challenging separation of church and
state issues in hopes of providing students with strong moral and spiritual stamina. In this
case, the Warren Court once again was to take up a controversial issue.
In 1951 the New York State Board of Regents (the State board of education) approved a 22-
word nondenominational prayer for recitation each morning in the public schools of New
York. It read. Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy
blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country. The Regents believed that the
prayer could be a useful tool for the development of character and good citizenship among
the students of the State of New York. The prayer was offered to the school boards in the
State for their use, and participation in the prayer-exercise was voluntary. In New Hyde
Park, New York, the Union Free School District No. 9 directed the local principal to have
the prayer said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of the
The parents of ten pupils in the New Hyde Park schools objected to the prayer. They...