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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. .

Media Resources: The New York Times- 20 June 2000 and Washington



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