Magazine article Church & State

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Texas `Football Prayer' Case

Magazine article Church & State

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Texas `Football Prayer' Case

Article excerpt

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court grilled attorneys closely on both sides of the issue during a spirited oral argument March 29 over the constitutionality of school-sponsored prayer before football games in Texas.

The case is being closely watched, since it is the first religion-and-schools dispute before the high court since 1992. Religious Right groups, which favor the pro-prayer policy in place in Santa Fe, Texas, brought out their big gun: attorney Jay Sekulow of TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice.

Arguing on behalf of the school district, Sekulow insisted that the policy in Santa Fe, which permits a student elected by his or her peers to give invocational "messages" before football games, is neutral because it is "student led." Sekulow insisted that the prayers are permissible because the decision is left to the student. The attorney attempted to portray the policy as one meant to foster free speech.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was quick to demolish that argument. Under close questioning, Sekulow was forced to admit that under the Santa Fe policy, school officials would not permit certain types of "messages," such as a student calling on the football team to physically assault members of the opposing team.

Justice David Souter followed up, asking Sekulow if a student would be free to give a message insisting that "religion is bunk." Although Sekulow argued that a student could give such a message, Souter countered that the school district would probably not allow it, since it would not qualify as an invocation.

Justice Anthony M. …

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