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Communities in Conflict: The School Prayer in West Germany, the United States and Canada

  • Jerold Waltman (a1)


Three remarkably similar court cases involving prayers in public schools have been decided in Germany, the United States, and Canada, all of which illustrate the issue of communities in conflict. Comparing these cases is especially pertinent for Canadian jurisprudence inasmuch as community has been trumpeted as important for giving life to the Charter. Developing four options for religiously plural federal societies, this article shows how these three countries each choose different routes, and how these choices relate to history and culture. Further, it points out that an emphasis on community in Charter interpretation is in tension with itself.

En Allemagne, aux États-Unis et au Canada, des tribunaux ont statué sur trois cas d'une similarité remarquable portant sur la prière dans les écoles publiques. Ces trois arrêts illustrent bien le problème des communautés en conflit entre elles. La comparaison de ces cas a une pertinence particulière pour la réflexion légale au Canada, étanta donné l'accent mis sur l'importance de l'idée de communauté dans l'interprétation de la Charte. Après avoir élaboré quatre options pour des sociétés fédérales a pluralisme religieux, cette étude examine comment ces trois pays ont chacun opté pour une voie différente, et de quelle façon ces choix sont reliés à l'histoire et à la culture. Par ailleurs, elle indique que l'accent mis sur la communauté dans l'interprétation de la Charte est en contradiction avec elle même.



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1. A useful summary and critique of the community literature is Cochran, C.E., “The Thin Theory of Community: The Communitarians and Their Critics,” Political Studies, September, 1989, 422–35.

2. Monahan, Patrick, The Charter Federalism and the Supreme Court of Canada (Toronto: Carswell, 1987), 94.

3. The most complete study is Helmreich, Ernst C., Religious Education in German Schools (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959). Two useful briefer surveys are Kauper, Paul and Halberstadt, Rudolf, “Religion and Education in West Germany: A Survey and an American Perspective,” Valparaiso University Law Review, Fall, 1969, 142 and Obermayer, Klaus, “Religious Schools and Religious Freedom: Proposals for Reform of the German Public School System,” American Journal of Comparative Law, 1968, 552–62.

4. The authoritative work is Spotts, Frederic, The Church and Politics in Germany (Middletown, Conn.: WesIeyan University Press, 1973). A briefer review can be found in Obermayer, Klaus, “State and Religion in the Federal Republic of Germany,” Journal of Church and State, 1975, 97111.

5. Spotts, , Churches and Politics, 48.

6. Spotts, , Churches and Politics, 50.

7. It is also possible to set up a purely private school.

8. Another important religiously inspired clause, unrelated to our concerns here, is that “No one may be compelled against his conscience to render war service involving the use of arms.”

9. A discussion of the procedures of the Federal Constitutional Court can be found in Holland, Kenneth, “The Courts in the Federal Republic of Germany,” in Waltman, Jerold and Holland, Kenneth, eds., The Political Role of Law Courts in Modern Democracies (London: Macmillan, 1988), Chap. 5.

10. An excellent analysis of this case can be found in Durham, W. Cole, “Religion and the Public Schools: Constitutional Analysis in Germany and the United States,” Paper presented at the Western Association for German Studies, 1977.

11. First Senate (1979), 52 BVerfGE 223. English translation in Kommers, Donald, The Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic of Germany (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989), 466–72.

12. Helmreich, , Religious Education, 163.

13. See Gausted, Edwin, “Church, State, and Education in Historical Perspective,” Journal of Church and State, 1984, 1729.

14. Quoted in Culver, Raymond B., Horace Mann and Religion in the Massachusetts Public Schools (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929), 207.

15. See Messerli, Jonathan, Horace Mann: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1971).

16. Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925).

17. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962).

18. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985).

19. This test was first elaborated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S.602 (1971).

20. The most strident argument is made in Cord, Robert, Separation of Church and State (New York: Lambeth Press, 1982). See also Vieira, Norman, “School Prayer and the Principle of Uncensored Listening,” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, 1987, 763–87; Paulsen, Michael, “Religion, Equality, and the Court: An Equal Protection Approach to Establishment Clause Adjudication,” Notre Dame Law Review, 1986, 311–71; and Hull, Andrew, “A Moment of Silence: A Permissible Accomodation Protecting the Capacity to form Religious Belief,” Indiana Law Journal, 1986, 429–56.

21. Wolman v. Walter, 433 U.S. 229, 263 (1977).

22. See Mirsky, Yedudah, “Civil Religion and the Establishment Clause,” Yale Law Journal, 1986, 1237–57 and the sources cited therein.

23. Creighton, Donald, Canada's First Century (New York: St. Martins, 1970), 5.

24. Quoted in Wilson, J. Donald, “Education in Upper Canada: Sixty Years of Change,” in Wilson, J. Donald, Stamp, Robert M., and Audet, Louis-Philippe, eds., Canadian Education: A History (Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 217.

25. Quoted in Ibid.., 205.

26. See Lower, Arthur, “Religion and Religious Institutions,” in Brown, George W., ed., Canada (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950), Chap. 20 for a brief overview.

27. In addition to the provisions noted here the Charter repeats the protections for separate schools contained in the British North America Act of 1867. See Section 29.

28. This and all other quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the case, R e Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education, (1988) 65 O.R. (2d) 641.

29. This procedure was developed in R. v. Oakes, (1986) D.L.R.(4th) 200.

30. This test is also from R. v. Oakes.

31. See Justice Clark's discussion in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203.

32. Armour, Leslie, The Idea of Canada and the Crisis of Community (Ottawa: Steel Rail Publishing, 1981).

33. Monahan, , Charter, 12.

34. Monahan, , Charter,, 95.

35. Monahan, , Charter, 104.

36. Monahan, , Charter, 108.

37. For an exploration of some of the difficulties of reconciling private property issues and democratic socialism, see Furniss, Norman, “Property Rights and Democratic Socialism,” Political Studies, 1978, 450–61.

38. See, for example, MacIntyre's, Alasdair two treatises, After Virtue, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988).


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