Media comments on the U.S. Supreme Court Santa Fe decision:
People for the American Way
Foundation (PFAWF): President Ralph G. Neas stated in a news release: "The Santa Fe
school district tried to promote religion by disguising it as neutral
free speech, but the Court has unmasked the district's policy for what
it is - unconstitutional, school-sponsored, captive-audience prayer.
This school district has a history of crossing the line, time and
again, by favoring, if not coercing, religious expression. But the
Court saw through this subterfuge and upheld the Constitution and its
guarantee of religious liberty for all Americans, regardless of their
beliefs." In an apparent reference to George W Bush's
statements on nominating Supreme Court justices if he were to become
president, Ralph Neas commented: "The narrowness of this
decision is troubling and it indicates how dramatically one or two
more right-wing Justices would shift the balance and redefine
Americans' fundamental religious liberty." The next president
will nominate from two to four new justices.
National Network of Youth Ministries: National director Paul
Fleischmann stated that the court is sending a message to students "that
religion has no relevance in daily life. I think it shows there is hostility to religion in
our society. It's disappointing, it's probably not going to get any
better, and we probably have to expect more decisions that are
anti-religion." He continued: "We are all up in arms about school violence
and here is something positive and constructive" that is being
curtailed. [The decision reflects] a humanistic,
relativistic view that God has nothing to do with daily life."
His network sponsors the See You At
the Pole prayer events. 1
Family Research Foundation: The FRC is a Fundamentalist Christian
group which is pro-life and opposed to equal rights for homosexuals. The Associated
Press reported that FRC spokesperson Jan LaRue said that the government's
response to religion has become
"malevolent hostility." 7
Crystal Roberts of the FRC later commented on another matter, and
referred to the court's "harsh June 19 decision striking down
student-led prayer before football game, and placed religious values
under attack." 2
American Center for Law and Justice: This is aFundamentalist
Christian legal group. Chief counsel Jay Sekulow said that the ruling "distorts the First Amendment by exhibiting
hostility toward student speech. It is the free speech of the students that has
been censored." 1
American Jewish Committee: Spokesperson David Harris hailed the
court ruling. He said that "private religious expression [is protected
but] officially sanctioned religious observances are not."
The Texas Pagan Awareness League: TXPAL director Jon Edens
said, in a news release: "The Supreme Court’s decision shows
an understanding by the Court that minority religions can be and have
been discriminated against in schools. TXPAL supports the opportunity
for students to pray silently or meet in religious groups. The recent
ruling does not negate this right, but it does protect those of
minority religions from feeling pressured to conform." 3
Christian Liberty Legal Institute: SpokespersonKelly
Shackelford said that the court ruling is "dangerous....The
court is now beginning to censor the religious speech of private
citizens. This is wrong."
Fellowship of Christian Athletes: Spokesperson Dal Shealy
said that the court's ruling is "a bizarre and ironic
intrusion...While we're seeing the blossoming of spiritual life among
the nation's athletes, our highest court has shown barren hostility to
all thing religious in public life. [The Fellowship of Christian
Athletes] has one warning for the Supreme Court: If we choose to
remove truly positive influences such as prayer from our schools, we
must no longer be perplexed when appalling tragedies become
increasingly and disturbingly common."
While campaigning in Vancouver, WA, for the Presidency, Governor
George W. Bush indicated disappointment with the court ruling. He
said: "I thought voluntary student-led prayer at
extracurricular activities was right and important, and the
Supreme Court thought otherwise..."
A spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore said that the court
"reached the right decision in the case." He also
mentioned that Mr. Gore supports "private prayer in school
and at school-related events as long as participation is truly voluntary
and follows the guidelines (Education) Secretary Riley recently issued
detailing what is suitable within the school environment."4,5
Debbie Mason, an American Baptist and spokeswoman for the
plaintiffs said that she was "so happy my whole body was
Prayer Warriors at Santa Fe: Some Christian groups in Texas organized a prayer event at the Houston Astrodome for the Santa
Fe Indians opening football game on 2000-SEP-1. Local pastor Del Toler
of Santa Fe's Calvary Crossroads Church commented: "We are not
renegades or rebels. We are patriots. We do not like being told that
we can't pray." One group called "No Pray, No Play"
™ urged on their Internet site that Christians across the state come to
Santa Fe by the thousands to recite the Lord's Prayer immediately
after the national anthem. 6They didn't materialize in large numbers.
Visitors from across the state were among the group of 150 attendees
who stood outside the stadium gate to join in the Lord's Prayer.
Reports differ on the results in the stands. The Houston Chronicle
said that "virtually all of the fans at Santa Fe High School's
opening game Friday recited the Lord's Prayer just before kickoff."
CNN reported that only about 24 fans recited the prayer. Judging by
the CNN sound track, relatively few people joined in. After the
game, Dale Toler said: "I was very pleased with it. This was
exactly what I anticipated. I didn't want to see a mob...It was done
in an orderly fashion, we made our statement and we upheld our belief
in free speech." He explained that demonstrating free speech
was the purpose behind the prayer event: "that people can pray
here or at a restaurant, as well as in their homes." He
concluded: "The Supreme Court did not rule that we could not
pray. It said the school could not sanction [prayer]. This way,
everyone has the right to pray, whether they're Protestant, Catholic,
Buddhist or Muslim."
School Superintendent Richard Ownby said that townspeople had told him
that they wished No Pray, No Play had not been involved: "If
they'd really had the interests of Santa Fe at heart, they would have
tried to work with the local ministerial alliance and others here
rather than doing this from the outside and bringing everybody in
later. Most of the comments I've heard have been that people here wish
they'd done it in their own town and just let us go on about our
Forest City, NC: Since the U.S. Supreme Court prevented
school-sponsored prayers over the PA system, pastor Danny Jones
figured out an alternative approach. He broadcast a prayer from the
press box of the Chase High School stadium over a local radio station.
Christians who had brought batter powered radios cranked up the volume
so that the prayer was heard clearly in the stands: "Father in
heaven, please bless the game. Give us safety; give us a good spirit
of sportsmanship." 7
Yellville AR: The local school board organized a prayer
demonstration in open violation of the Supreme Court ruling. They
organized Yellville-Summit High School students and cheerleaders to
line up on the 50 yard line, kneel and pray. The cheerleaders switched
their pom-poms with banners containing biblical passages. 14
Knox: Hanna Wood, 17, an assistant football
trainer and local official of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
organized 250 people to form a human prayer chain on the asphalt track
around the football field. School officials said that they could not
have stopped the event. 7
What does the Bible say; What would Jesus do?
The Gospel of Matthew has a passage that appears to fit the "No Pray, No Play"
™ group with amazing precision. Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is recorded as
Matthew 6:5-6: "And when thou prayest, thou
shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the
synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of
men....when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy
door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...."
The reference to go into thy closet has been translated in other
versions of the Bible as "go into your inner room." "go away
by yourself," "all alone," "your [most] private
room," "enter into thy chamber," and "go into your
The message of Matthew 6:6, clearly implies that:
Jesus condemns prayers in situations where other people are present,
when the aim is to make a public display of one's religious practice.
Jesus cited prayer in synagogues and in the streets, but it would seem to
apply equally to sports events attended by the public.
Jesus felt that prayers are to be an intensely personal event between a
person and their God; no one else should be present.
As Melissa Rogers, General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee
wrote: "It seems to me that Jesus was speaking to the spirit in which
we pray. To me, this passage means that if we are praying to be seen by
others, we're in trouble." 8
The Bible, other writings of the early Christian movement, and the Jewish
Talmud stress the Golden Rule: that one should do onto others as you would
have them do onto you:
Matthew 7:12:"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should
do to you, do ye even so to them."
Gospel of Thomas 6: "...and don't do what
you hate..." The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that were
widely accepted among early Christians, but which never made it into the
Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
Talmud, Shabbat 31a:"What is hateful to you, do not to
your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary."
The recital of a prayer at a sports event is almost certain to distress
followers of other religions. Applying the Golden Rule in this situation
would imply that such distress should be avoided.
Reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court decision generally fell into two groups:
Conservative Christians generally blasted the ruling, implying
incorrectly that the
court prohibited all student-led prayers. For example, ReligionToday, which is
normally very precise in their news reporting, stated that "The U.S. Supreme Court voted June 19 to ban prayers before
football games at public high schools, saying they violate the
News releases from other sources generally noted that the court affirmed
the right of students to initiate prayer at school and at sports events, but that school-organized invocations were
The latter group reported accurately. In fact, the court reconfirmed the right of any student to pray before,
during or after football games, and before, during or after school. For
example, any player can kneel and pray in the lockers or on the field. Anybody in the
viewing stands can pray.
Any attendee can organize an impromptu prayer session with others around
them. What the court found unconstitutional was any action by the school administration
to organize a formal prayer to be read over the PA system, typically before
the start of the game.
It is not obvious whether the conservative Christian reactions are due to a
misunderstanding of the court ruling, or whether they are deliberate attempts to
mislead the public. Either way, they risk losing credibility with the public.
I was disturbed by a number of developments in the Galveston case:
Many school districts across Texas disobeyed the court injunction and
continued to hold prayers at sports events. They seem to value the preservation of
their traditions and culture above the rule of law. That is a
message to teach children, particularly as Texas and the rest of North
America becomes more religiously diverse in the decades to come.
A number of conservative Christian commentators have said that prohibiting
organized prayers will increase the potential for school violence. The
opposite may well happen: forcing non-Christians to participate in Christian
prayers would have marginalized followers of minority
religions. Marginalizing a minority group was the prime cause of school
violence in the Columbine case, and at many other school shootings.
There are at least two reasons why Christians should not pray at
school football games:
Those who pray must know that their action adversely affects
non-Christians in the audience, and leaves them feeling left out,
and marginalized. The Golden Rule, (to
do onto others as you would have them do onto you), would seem to
prohibit public prayer.