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Santa Fe vs Doe
Transcript of Santa Fe vs Doe
Plaintiff v. Defendant
Plaintiff: Santa Fe Independent School District
Cause of Action
By delivering prayer over the P.A. before varsity football games, the Does alleged that the school district was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (establishment of Religion).
Issues Before the Court
Does the student led prayer/ invocation policy violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
Santa Fe Independent School District wants the courts to find that the policy does not violate the Establishment Clause because the messages were private student speech, not public speech. The school district did not coerce anyone to participate in a religion or its exercise and attendance at extracurricular events is voluntary not mandatory.
Does want the courts to find that the prayers offered at home football games violate the establishment clause.
• Prior to 1995, students elected a student chaplain who said prayer over the loudspeaker before home varsity football games.
• A group of Mormon and Catholic students, alumni, and parents filed suit that this policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
o The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from establishing an official religion as well as favoring one religion over another.
Key Facts Continued
• During the suit the school district implemented a new policy where 2 student elections were held. The first election was to determine if an invocation could be delivered and a second would determine 2 students to deliver it.
• The district court ordered that the policy be modified; it would state that only nonsectarian, non proselytizing prayer be permitted.
• The 5th Circuit Appeals Court held that even with the modification the prayer policy still violated the Establishment Clause.
Rationale of the Court
• “Constitution guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in any way that establishes a state religion or religious faith or tends to do so.” Justice Stevens said in the majority opinion
• Because the messages were delivered on school property at school sponsored events, over the school’s P.A. system by someone representing the student body, who was supervised by school faculty while following school policy, it cannot be considered private speech.
• By using the same students for the entire season, there is no intent to indiscriminate the ceremony. The student is going to have the same beliefs throughout the season and therefore there the messages would not be nonsectarian.
• District did not separate from religious content. The policy only endorses “invocations” which usually refers to appealing for divine assistance and a focused religious message.
• Football games were not always voluntary for football players, cheerleaders, and band members who had to go for school credit.
Written by Justice Rehnquist and joined by Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas
While the policy might have been applied in an unconstitutional way, it was not invalid because:
• The students could vote not to have a pregame speaker if they chose
• Election might not focus on prayer
• Any speech given as the result of the election could be considered private speech
• The policy had plausible secular purposes
Was the Call Good?
Disagree with the court and agree with the dissenting opinion because the students could vote not to have a pregame speaker if they did not want one, they were given a choice.
I also disagree that the football games were not voluntary. No one was forced to play football or cheer lead. Students who refused to go for this reason could not be penalized because that would violate their First Amendment.
I agree with the courts decision that the prayer given before the home football games are indeed in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Although the students did vote as to whether or not to have a prayer and who the prayer was to be given by, they worked with a faculty advisor and therefore the school was approving or disapproving the prayer to be given.
I also agree that it is unreasonable to say that the event is voluntary for the football players, cheerleaders, and band members as if they are absent from such an event they may be penalized in some way. Many sports teams have repercussions for any team member that may be absent from a game. A similar policy exists for members of the school marching band. These members often join band to complete in marching competitions and participate in football performances only because it is a grade requirement. In missing a football game they are likely to loose credit in a school course. Therefore since their attendance is required at these events, the school is forcing these students to listen to a specific prayer.
Holding of the Court
Yes, the school district’s policy of student led, student initiated prayer at football games violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.