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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.

Sources:

The New York Times- 20 June 2000 and Washington