• January 12, 2014 · 12:00 PM

Jonathan Engel

What’s It Like to Be Caught Up in an Atheist Lawsuit?

                         An Atheist Tells the Agony and the Elation  

                             Of an Atheist Win in Supreme Court

 One night when he was about five years old, Jonathan Engel was awakened in the middle of the night by police sirens howling, their rooftop lights blazing and firetrucks in the street. He was told that the trucks were here to put out a burning cross that had been placed on the front lawn of their neighbor, Larry Roth, who, along with Jonathan’s father, had started a lawsuit to take prayers out of the local schools.

“This was Long Island, not the deep South,” Engel says. It was 1962. Larry Roth and Steven Engel, Jonathan’s father, had just won their case in Supreme Court to take prayers out of the local school district. The two neighbors had pursued the case together, won together, and they suffered the retaliation of their opponents together.  The Roths just happened to be the ones to get the Ku Klux-like burning cross on their front lawn.

Jonathan Engel grew up to be a lawyer himself. But he never forgot that middle-of-the night fear as he looked out of his window and saw the firetrucks. He is haunted, he says, by both the honor of being Steven Engel’s son, and appalled by the ugly retaliation he witnessed after the court case, Engel v. Vitale, won in Supreme Court, taking prayer out of local public schools forever.

Two Citizens Made History

Come on January 12th to the NYC Atheists’ Brunch to hear Jonathan Engel, now an attorney and consultant to non-profit corporations, tell how his father and their neighbor decided to fight for their rights as American citizens--and made constitutional history.

Come and hear what the two major concerns were for the Supreme Court Justices of 1962. Hear how the plaintiffs finally won, after first losing three times: they lost once in NY State supreme Court, then in the Appellate Division and then they lost for the third time in the NY State Court of Appeals. But the plaintiffs’ persistence paid off when, on the fourth try, the Supreme Court of the land concurred with them!

Honor Our Atheist Heroes

Let’s honor our Atheist heroes! Both Jonathan’s father, as well as Larry Roth and the other five plaintiffs in the Engel v. Vitale case deserve our respect and remembrance. Let us not forget the price they and their families paid in the ostracism, the hate calls and the threats they suffered afterwards. Let us understand that no gain for the civil rights of Atheists is achieved without a price.

Honor the New Year by paying homage to our Atheist activists and heroes!


WHAT:    “How Two Neighbors Made Atheist History By Getting Prayer Out of Public Schools,” the story of the first Supreme Court success in fighting school prayer, a talk by Jonathan Engel, J.D.

WHEN:     Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 12 noon

WHERE:   THE PRESS BOX PUB & RESTAURANT - 932 Second Avenue (bet. 49th & 50th) - Second Floor

COST        BRUNCH is $20, which includes a selection of Buffet Entrees and salad, soft drinks, coffee, tax and tip. We encourage seconds on the delicious Eggs Benedict.

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  • Jane E.

    Wonderful speaker! Jon Engel took us back in history to tell us how prayer got into our schools in the first place. A moving, touching talk telling about all the blows the plaintiff families took after they won the Supreme Court case-- including hate mail, threatening phone calls and that burning Ku Klux cross on the lawn of their neighbor. Many of the hate letters included anti-Semitic insults, demonstrating the rampant anti-Semitism on Long Island in that period, especially among Catholics who wanted to keep prayer in the public schools.

    January 13, 2014

  • Jane E.

    This speaker is NOT TO BE MISSED. His topic is at the very heart of what NYC Atheists is doing. Engel's suit to get prayer out of Long Island public schools lost 3 times before it hit the Supreme Court and won. This speaker's Dad MADE HISTORY in the secular movement! What did it take? Why did it win? What can we learn from this speaker's story?

    1 · January 7, 2014

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