Prayer Found Unconstitutional by Supreme Court

Article excerpt

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning the right of students to lead prayers before school activities upheld earlier rulings that squashed the encroachment of religion on school grounds.

At press time in June, the nation's highest court said in a 6-3 decision that a student-led prayer before a football game at the lone high school in Sante Fe, Texas, was unconstitutional. Justice John Paul Stevens, speaking for the majority, said that students could pray privately at school, but not assisted by a public address system.

"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," Stevens said. In the past, U.S. courts have curtailed public prayer in school classrooms.

He continued, "Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this court prohibits any school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during or after the school day. But the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the state affirmatively sponsors the particular practice of religion."

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of three dissenting voters, complained that the majority opinion sends a negative message to society. …