Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe
Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), was a case heard before the United States Supreme Court. It ruled that a policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Oral arguments were heard March 29, 2000, and the court announced its decision on June 19, holding the policy unconstitutional by a 6-3 decision.
Santa Fe Independent School District ("SFISD") allowed students to read Christian prayers at graduation ceremonies and over the public address system at home football games. These prayers were read by an elected student Chaplain.
Two sets of current or former students and their respective mothers, one of whom was Mormon, the other Catholic, objected to this practice and filed a suit on the basis of a violation of the Establishment Clause. The District Judge allowed the plaintiffs to remain anonymous to protect them from harassment. They are referred to as the Does.
During the litigation, the school changed its policy. They would hold two elections under students, the first deciding if 'invocations' should be held during football games. The second to elect the student to deliver them. The students elected in favour of prayer.
The district court allowed this policy, though it required that they should be nonsectarian and non-proselytizing. The judge main authority was "Jones v. Clear Creek ISD", which allows certain school prayers. The district court's final judgment was in December 1996.
Both the SFISD and the Does appealed. The SFISD appealed because it claimed the words 'nonsectarian and non-proselytizing' should not be necessary. The Does wanted the football prayers found unconstitutional altogether. The Fifth Circuit insisted that 'the words "nonsectarian, nonproselytizing" are constitutionally necessary components' of a policy governing prayer. Moreover it also decided that these student led prayers were only acceptable at graduation, not during football games. The majority opinion was written by Wiener.
There was a dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Grady Jolly, who objected that now 'the majority expressly exerts control over the content of its citizens' prayers.'
The Supreme Court granted certiorari, limited to the following question: "Whether petitioner's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause."
The majority opinion, written by Justice Stevens depended on Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577. It held that these pre-game prayers delivered "on school property, at school-sponsored events, 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" are not private, but public speech. "Regardless of the listener's support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school's seal of approval."
A dissenting opinion was written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. His dissent asserted that the majority opinion "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life". His material objections were, first that the policy on which the Court has now ruled had not yet put in to practice. "[T]he question is not whether the district's policy may be applied in violation of the Establishment Clause, but whether it inevitably will be." Second Rehnquist also stated that the speech in question would be private, chosen and delivered by the speaker, rather than public, school-sponsored speech.
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