Supreme Court Reaffirms Separation of Church and State in School Prayer Case

The Supreme Court today ruled against student-led prayers at high school football games, reaffirming earlier decisions against “officially sponsored prayer in public schools.” The decision declared unconstitutional a Santa Fe public school district’s policy to elect students to lead prayer before home high school football games. The 6-3 majority opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who noted that, despite the school district’s argument that the prayers were student-led and voluntary, “the delivery of a pre-game prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.” Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote a dissenting opinion, which was signed by Justices Scalia and Thomas.

The New York Times reported today on some important aspects of the case, which was initiated by a Roman Catholic and a Mormon family. For example, while the school district argued that the prayers were “private speech,” and did not violate the separation of Church and state; the Supreme Court held that “the realities of the situation plainly reveal that its policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion.” In a related case, the Court let stand a ban on a Louisiana school board policy requiring teachers to preface the teaching of evolution with a disclaimer that the theory was “not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept.” Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas also dissented from that decision.


The New York Times- 20 June 2000 and Washington

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