News - Capital University Law School

2016 John E. Sullivan Lecture by Professor William Marshall a Resounding Success

12/6/2016  -   On November 15, 2016, Professor William P. Marshall, the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, delivered the 2016 Sullivan Lecture entitled, “The School Prayer Decisions or Why Engel v. Vitale May Have Had It Right All Along.”

Speaking to a packed audience of Capital students, faculty, alumni, and supporters at the Ohio Statehouse, Professor Marshall, argued that the Supreme Court’s school prayer decisions from the early 1960’s correctly focused on the potential political divisiveness of government-sponsored sectarian prayer. He criticized the Court’s more recent school prayer decisions for deviating from this rationale, and instead emphasizing the danger of individual coercion posed by state-approved school prayers.

Professor Marshall’s remarks sparked lively debate among a distinguished trio of law and religion scholars who commented on the Lecture. Professor Joanne C. Brant from Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law disagreed most directly with Professor Marshall and offered a robust defense of coercion as the animating principle of the Court’s school prayer jurisprudence. Capital University Law School’s Associate Dean James R. Beattie questioned Professor Marshall’s contention that the prevention of divisiveness is an adequate justification for prohibiting state-sponsored prayer under the Establishment Clause. Finally, Capital’s beloved former Dean Rodney K. Smith (1989-93) returned to offer a Madisonian response to Professor Marshall’s Lecture, emphasizing the primacy of liberty of conscience in interpreting the Establishment Clause.

Professor Marshall’s remarks form the basis of an upcoming article that will be published in 2017 by the Capital University Law Review, which organized and sponsored this event. The Sullivan Lecture was established in honor of Professor Emeritus John Edward Sullivan, a dedicated teacher and scholar who was appointed to the Law School faculty in 1953 and who also served as acting dean and academic dean during his tenure. The Sullivan Lecture is presented at Capital each academic year by a distinguished legal scholar who addresses a matter of significance to the Law School and to the greater legal community.