RIGHTEOUS REVOLUTION or Constitutional Quagmire?

By Benen, Steve | Church & State, October 2000 | Go to article overview

RIGHTEOUS REVOLUTION or Constitutional Quagmire?


Benen, Steve, Church & State


Football Prayer Fans Are Trying An End-Run Around The Supreme Court's Ruling

For Kody Shed, the start of Texas' high school football season is the beginning of a "righteous revolution."

Frustrated by the Supreme Court decision barring school-sponsored invocations at athletic events, Shed sought a way to circumvent the ruling and keep prayer as an integral part of the pre-game activities. The 27-year-old lay worship leader in Temple, Texas, came up with a plan wherein thousands of people in stadiums throughout the Lone Star State would remain standing after the national anthem and recite the Lord's Prayer. Since the invocation would be without support or encouragement from schools, he saw no legal difficulties for the project.

To implement the strategy, Shed traveled the state throughout the summer, distributing T-shirts, meeting with religious leaders and spreading his sound bite: No Pray, No Play.

"The Supreme Court has said to cease to pray, but the Bible says to pray without ceasing," Shed remarked in an online message to supporters. "The public school's hands are tied, but your's [sic] are not! Will you sit, snooze and lose your rights, or plan to stand and pray?"

The No Pray No Play project is not unique. In fact, as students returned for a new school year this fall, many communities were dealing with a fresh round of controversies surrounding football prayer. Despite the unambiguous ruling from the Supreme Court in June, a number of groups creatively sought out legal methods to impose prayer on high school football game audiences.

As long as the school is not involved in any way in promoting the religious exercises, most believe these efforts are legally permissible. Whether the prayers are appropriate, however, remain in question.

"It strikes me that praying as part of a protest of a Supreme Court ruling is using prayer as a kind of weapon or an act of spiritual intimidation against those who dare to be something other than their brand of Christianity," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "For these folks, prayer isn't an expression of piety but more of a statement of power: we are the biggest, most powerful religious group and we want everybody to know it. People who pray with this attitude are bullies. They may be exercising free speech but they're hardly practicing the message of Christianity."

The activities come in direct response to the high court's Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe ruling, handed down in June. In the 6-3 decision, the justices clearly articulated the appropriate role religion should play at public school athletic events.

Writing for the court majority, Justice John Paul Stevens explained that a scheme developed by the school district in Santa Fe, Texas, that allowed students to elect a classmate to deliver a prayer prior to football games, was in conflict with the First Amendment.

"Such a system," insisted Stevens, "encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coercion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise."

However, the high court's decision dealt specifically with school promotion of religion and did not ban praying at football games.

"[N]othing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during or after the school day," Stevens wrote.

Apparently Shed and others like him have overlooked this part of the ruling and think individual rights to pray are being restricted.

Shed's No Pray No Play may be only one of a handful of groups spending months preparing and strategizing for "spontaneous" outbursts at football games, but over the summer, it quickly became the most vocal and organized of the groups.

From a rhetorical perspective, No Pray No Play uses strident language to deliver its pro-football prayer message. …

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