October 23, 2012

Cases of Interest to the School Community 1999–2000 Term

First Amendment

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, No. 99-62

Can a school district permit “student-led, student-initiated” prayer before high school football games?

Decision: No. The Court ruled 6-3 that even when attendance is voluntary and the decision to pray is made by students, pregame prayers are not private speech, and a football game is not a public forum for unbridled free expression.

From the majority opinion by Justice Stevens (joined by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer):

Contrary to the District’s repeated assertions that it has adopted a “hands-off” approach to the pregame invocation, the realities of the situation plainly reveal that its policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion. In this case, as we found in Lee [ v. Weisman], the “degree of school involvement” makes it clear that the pregame prayers bear “the imprint of the State and thus put schoolage children who objected in an untenable position.”

Dissenting: Chief Justice Rehnquist (joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas)

Opinion and briefs: supreme.findlaw.com/Supreme_Court/docket/mardocket.html#99-62

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