Supreme Court Rulings



A Supreme Court ruling, outlawing prayer at football games, is "hostile to the students," according to the lead counsel for a Texas public school district that was on the losing end of Monday's decision. "The decision distorts the First Amendment," said Jay Sekulow, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice and the chief counselor for the Santa Fe Independent School District in Galveston County. "I think it's clear this court opinion is pretty hostile in tone."

The case began in 1995, when four students and parents of the Santa Fe high school objected to prayers broadcast by chaplains before football games and graduations. In response, district officials changed the policy to mandate "student elected representatives" rather than chaplains lead the football ceremonies with messages related to sportsmanship.

In 1999, a federal appeals court addressed the issue of graduation ceremony speeches by ruling only nonsectarian comments were allowed. The court also said students were prohibited from leading the crowd in prayer before football games.

School officials appealed the graduation ceremony and football game rulings to the Supreme Court; the justices agreed to hear arguments addressing only the latter issue.

Six of the nine justices ruled the school district violated the Constitution by allowing the public prayers.

"School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are non-adherents that they are outsiders" and violates the First Amendment.

The related portions of the First Amendment state, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The conservative Family Research Council also criticized the ruling

"Allowing students to speak about their faith in public in their own words does not create a government endorsement of religion," said Jan LaRue, a senior director of legal studies at the FRC. "Government schools have no business censoring student religious speech."

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas disagreed with the court majority. Rehnquist said the ruling "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."

Because of another Supreme Court decision announced Monday - a Louisiana public school district will be barred from applying a disclaimer in the teaching of evolution to students. Since 1994, the Tangipahoa Parish school board had required its teachers to explain that the theory of evolution was "presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept." The High Court ruled 6 to 3 that the Louisiana law was a thinly-veiled attempt to promote religion, and thus, was unconstitutional.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia criticized the court's majority for blocking "a school district from even suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution - including but not limited to, the biblical theory of creation - are worthy of their consideration."

In reaction, Brian Fahling, Senior Trial Attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy in the nation's capital, said the high court's decision was an affront to Americans of faith.

Fahling said the decision "is one more significant and troubling step toward eliminating expressions of faith in the public square. There is a profound moral dissonance in a culture where pornography is admitted into our schools under the guise of academic freedom, but prayer by students at a football game is outlawed because it is considered harmful."

On Capitol Hill, House Republican Conference Chairman JC Watts (R-OK) said, "Apparently praying and reading the Ten Commandments are about the only things you can't do in our schools today. Things have finally gone too far. In protecting the rights of all people to express religious beliefs, the Supreme Court has removed the right of all people to express religious beliefs. This decision effectively strips religion from all forms and venues of public life," Watts said.

US Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX) also expressed his dissatisfaction with the high court's decision. "I am very disappointed by the Supreme Court's ruling barring student led prayer at high school sporting events," he said. "I though we had graduated from the era of the activist court and entered the era of common sense interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court sent the wrong message to our children today. It said we must abide by the principles of freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion."


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