Background of the Santa Fe School District (Galveston,
1999-MAR-1: Texas ruling: A
lawsuit was filed by a Mormon and Roman Catholic family whose identities
have not been release to protect them from reprisals. Galveston's Santa Fe Independent School District had permitted "student-selected,
student-given, non-sectarian, non-proselytizing" prayers to be read over the PA
system at football games. School district policy said the purpose of such prayers was
"to solemnize the event, to promote good sportsmanship and student safety, and to
establish the appropriate environment for the competition." [Doe v. Santa Fe Independent School District, 168 F.3d
806 (5th Cir. 1999)] The administration had held a student vote which
indicated that the majority of students wanted formal prayer before
football games. The school administration then held a second vote so
that students could select representatives to read the prayers.
A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
5th circuit ruled on 1999-MAR-1 that student-led formal public prayers are not permitted
to be included in the agenda at school sports events, if the school administration was involved. By a 2:1 vote, the
court declared the policy to be unconstitutional, saying that football games are "hardly
the type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer." Kelly
Shackleford, spokesperson for Liberty Legal Institute (a conservative Christian legal
organization), said, "The government has no right to monitor the content of children's
The court's ruling was consistent with an earlier ruling by the 11 circuit Court of
1999-MAY: Religious hatred event: An incident
occurred in the Santa Fe school district that might have been related
to the prayer dispute. Three high school students were arrested for
threatening to hang a 13 year old Jewish student in the Santa Fe
middle school's eighth grade class.
1999-SEP: Court restraining order: A temporary restraining order was
issued which prevented the school from allowing a student organized, student-led
message to be included in public school game programs. This could include a "courteous, reverent, solemnizing
‘prayer, blessing, invocation, or reference to a deity' as her choice of
message to solemnize the football games this season." [Ward v. Sante Fe Independent School District, Civil Action
Number G-99-556, Slip. Op. at 2 (S. D. Tex. Sept. 3, 1999)] George Bush,
governor of Texas and presidential candidate in the 2000 elections, instructed the Texas Attorney
General to file an appeal. Louisiana, Mississippi, and five other states have
joined in support. In violation of the court ban, some school boards in Texas
continued to encourage student-led prayers at football games. Such prayers are a
long-standing tradition in Texas; so is independence from government authority.
1999-OCT-20: Resolution in Congress: 13 Texan congressmen urged the U.S. Supreme Court to allow
schools to include a formal student-organized, student-led prayer at high school games. They
resolution in the House to negate the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
decision. The resolution states, in part: "Prayers at
public school sporting events are entirely consistent with our American
heritage of seeking divine guidance and protection in all of our
On 1999-NOV-2, Congress passed a non-binding resolution which encouraged
Christian prayer before public school athletic games. A resolution has no
legal status in law; it is merely an expression of the beliefs of House
members. The resolution declares
that "prayers and invocations at public school sporting events are
constitutional under the First Amendment to the Constitution..." This
is an unusual statement for Congress to make:
It appears to transfer to the Congress the responsibility of
interpreting the U.S. Constitution: a function reserved for the
Since the resolution attempts to over-ride a Supreme Court decision, it
also appears to be a violation of the representatives' oath of office.
Before they entered the House, they were required to promise to
uphold the Constitution.
The resolution also recommended That "the Supreme Court...should uphold
the constitutionality of such practices."
Some comments were:
Rep. Walter Jones, (R-NC) said that: "America was built on
Robert Aderholt (R-AL) found it "most ironic that while an
increasing number of violent crimes have occurred in
our nation's schools in recent years, our federal courts have seen fit
to restrict the very expression of faith which can play a significant role
in providing desperately needed moral guidance to our youth...A strong
religious message coupled with good sportsmanship instilled by adult role
models can make a positive long-term influence on our nation's young people."
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said: "We're not against students praying,
athletes praying. That's not the issue. The issue is under what
circumstances can state-supported institutions use their facilities to promote
one particular prayer."
Bobby Scott (D-VA) reminded the Congress that the
U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that government-sponsored prayer in
school is unconstitutional. He noted, "The First Amendment was
added to the Constitution to stand as a guarantee that neither the power nor
the prestige of the federal government would be used to control, support or
influence the kinds of prayer that American people can say."
In an apparent attack on many non-Christian religious minorities, Rep.
James Traficant (D-Ohio) said that he was disturbed at "First
Amendment mumbo-jumbo." He commented that the U.S. Constitution
"never intended to separate God and people." He added
"A nation without God is a nation without order."
Ron Barrier, a spokesperson for American Atheists, called the resolution
"nonsense" and added that "there is nothing in the Constitution
that vests congress with the power to make laws promoting
religion. It's clearly a violation of the separation of state and
church. 'Majority Rule' religion is not an American value, but Big
Government Faith seems to be a bureaucratic specialty... Such non-binding
resolutions are designed to pander for votes in future elections - votes based
on emotion, not issues." 2
1999-NOV-15: The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it
hear arguments on a case involving student-led prayer at football
games in public high schools during 2000-APR. Their decision was
scheduled for 2000-JUN. The Galveston County, TX appeal is supported by state officials from AL, CO, KS, LA, MS, NE, SC
AND TN. "Some parents and students had argued that the prayers
increase pressure toward religious conformity." 3
1999-NOV-23:The American Center for Law and Justice,
a religious organizations created by Pat Robertson, asked to become
the official counsel of record in the Texas case. They offered to
represent the school district without charge. Oral arguments were
delivered before the U.S. Supreme Court in late 2000-MAR. In the
meantime, many school boards throughout Texas continued to have
broadcast over the PA system before sports events.
1999-NOV-23: According to AANEWS, Indiana may be the next hot
spot for prayers at public high-school football games. It has been a
long standing practice for coaches to lead their players in a pre-game
prayer. This obviously places the coaches, as representatives of the
government, in a position where they support a single religion:
Christianity. There is little doubt that it is as unconstitutional as
teachers leading students in prayer in their classroom.
2000-JAN-5: Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, Governor
George W. Bush, and the State of Texas had filed an amici curiae brief
before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999-MAR. They asked that the entire court re-hear the
case that was originally studied only by a panel of three judges. They
lost. On JAN-5, Cornyn, Bush, the States of Alabama, Kansas,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas
announced that they had issued an amici curiae brief in the appeal
before the U.S. Supreme Court.
2000-MAR-27: The U.S. supreme court heard arguments on
the Santa Fe case this week. In early March, 94% of Texas voters approved a non-binding resolution
backing student-initiated prayer at public school sporting events.
Consistent with numerous previous court rulings,
the U.S. Supreme Court declared on 2000-JUN-19 that public school administrations
cannot allow students to conduct formal prayers before school games.
The vote was 6 to 3 -- the same ratio as the earlier decision by the
lower court. Justice John Paul Stevens composed the majority
report, saying in part:
"School sponsorship of a religious
message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to
members of the audience who are nonadherents that they are outsiders,
not full members of the political community, and an accompanying
message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the
political community. The delivery of such a message - over the
school's public address system by a speaker representing the student
body, under the supervision of school faculty and pursuant to a school
policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer - is
not properly characterized as private speech." He added that
"the important role that public worship plays in many
communities, as well as the sincere desire to include public prayer as
a part of various occasions so as to mark those occasions'
significance. [However] such religious
activity in public schools, as elsewhere, must comport with the First
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Antonin
Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas cast the three dissenting votes.
The court found that:
Including a prayer in the game schedules was a state-sponsored
religious activity, and thus was unconstitutional.
Formal prayer unconstitutionally coerced attendees into
participating in a religious activity
The state may not endorse an overtly religious message, even if
the majority of the people want it.
Prayer, if truly initiated by an individual student, is
protected free speech. For example, a player can spontaneously
call for a group prayer huddle. A person in the stands can
assemble an informal group prayer.
Truly voluntary prayer by students is always protected speech,
both before, during, and after school.
The court rejected the arguments by the school district that the
prayer was not coercive because nobody was required to attend the game
or to participate in the invocation. The ruling stated: "The
Constitution demands that schools not force on students the difficult
choice between whether to attend these games or risk facing a
personally offensive religious ritual..." Further, they
wrote: "Even if we regard every high school student's decision to
attend a home football game as purely voluntary, we are nevertheless
persuaded that the delivery of a pre-game prayer has the improper
effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious
The identity of the Roman Catholic and Mormon parents who initiated
the lawsuit have not been released to prevent reprisals. A teacher had
already ridiculed one of the student plaintiffs in the case, by
characterizing her religion of Mormonism as "non-Christian"
and "cult-like." This prompting other students to
characterize the plaintiff's faith as "evil" and
"kind of like the KKK."
Court documents revealed that school personnel had tried to
discover the identities of the plaintiffs "by means of bogus
petitions, questionnaires, individual interrogation or downright
'snooping'" The district court threatened the school district
with "the harshest possible contempt sanctions and/or criminal
liability" to halt the search for those responsible.