Constitutional Question: Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?Conclusion:The state cannot hold prayers in public schools, even if participation is not required and the prayer is not tied to a particular religion in a 6-1 majority.The policy breached the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. The Court ruled that the constitutional prohibition of laws establishing religion meant that government had no business drafting formal prayers for any segment of its population to repeat in a government-sponsored religious program.Dissent:Justice Stewart dissented, arguing that no "official religion" was established by permitting those who want to say a prayer to say it.Vocabulary: “Establishment Clause” and “wall of separation”Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)Background: Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with felony breaking and entering. When he appeared in court without a lawyer, Gideon requested that the court appoint one for him. According to Florida state law, however, an attorney may only be appointed to an indigent defendant in capital cases,so the trial court did not appoint one. Gideon represented himself in trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.
Constitutional Question: Does the Sixth Amendment's right tocounsel in criminal cases extend to felony defendants in state courts?Conclusion:The Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a right to assistance of counsel applies to criminal defendants in state court by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Hugo L. Black, the Court held that it was consistent with the Constitution to require state courts to appoint attorneys for defendants who could not afford to retain counsel on their own. The Court reasoned that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel is a fundamental and essential right made obligatory upon the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.Vocabulary: 6thand 14thAmendmentTinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)Background: In December 1965, a group of students in Des Moines held a meeting in the home of 16-year-old Christopher Eckhardt to plan a public showing of their support for a truce in the Vietnam war.The principals of the Des Moines school learnedof the plan and met on December 14 to create a policy that stated that any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, with refusal to do so resulting in suspension.Constitutional Question: Does a prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school, as a form of symbolic protest, violate the students' freedom of speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment?Conclusion:Justice Abe Fortas delivered the opinion of the 7-2 majority. The Supreme Court held that the armbands represented pure speech that is entirely separate from the actions or conduct of those participating in it. The Court also heldthat the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property.In order to justify the suppression of speech, the school officials must be able to prove that the conduct in question would