What each has done has been to recognize and to follow the deeply entrenched and highly cherished spiritual traditions of our Nation traditions which come down to us from those who almost two hundred years ago avowed their “firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.” Aside from the fact that the Court had affronted the traditional interpretation of the First Amendment by striking down a voluntary prayer, in a comment the following year, the Court itself noted another irregularity of its decision:
Finally, in Engel v. Vitale, only last year, these principles were so universally recognized that the Court, without the citation of a single case reaffirmed them. The Court had failed to cite even a single precedent to justify its prohibition of New York’s voluntary prayers a significant departure from a bedrock rule of jurisprudence. Why did it fail to cite precedent cases? There were none which would support its decision. For 170 years following the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, no Court had ever struck down any prayer, in any form, in any location.
While the Court invoked no judicial precedent to sustain its decision, it did employ some strategic psychological rhetoric. Recall the Court’s comment that: these principles were so universally recognized. Lacking precedent, the Court simply alleged a widespread public support; that is, since “everybody” knew school prayer was wrong, the Court needed cite no precedent. However, the so-called “universally recognized” principles were actually foreign to most, and many observers commented on the Court’s new direction. For example, the World Book Encyclopedia 1963 Yearbook observed:
The significance of the 1962 decision regarding this school prayer was enormous, for the whole thorny problem of religion in public education was thus inevitably raised. According to this source, prior to the Engel case, the issue of separating prayer from education had not been “raised.” Legal authorities also noted: The Court has broken new ground in a number of fields. Few Supreme Court decisions of recent years have created greater furor than Engel v. Vitale.