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Santa Fe School District v. Doe Analysis

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Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017

Oscar Martinez

The Santa Fe Independent School District promoted the dominant Baptist Religion, and just imagine how it would feel to go to class and out of nowhere hear your teacher say “okay class, we will begin class today by giving a small prayer” would that make you feel uncomfortable? Would you stop your professor from moving forward with the prayer? Students within the school were facing something similar. The Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case came to the supreme court when the school elected a student as the school’s student council chaplain, and then that elected student would deliver a prayer over the PA system at every home game that the varsity football team would have. Prayers were not only offered in football games, but also at graduation ceremonies. It wasn’t until two students and their mothers (one Mormon and one Catholic) file a suit against the school district. They argued that these practices were against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

As the suit was pending the school district then decided to take action by making a different policy. In the new policy there were going to be two student elections. The first was to determine whether prayers should be deliver at games, and the second, a student was to be elected as the spokesman. After changing and modifying the policy, The Fifth Circuit held that even do the policy has been changed, the prayers at the football games were still invalid. Then the big question rose even more, whether does the Santa Fe Independent School District policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? Then the Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case officially came to the supreme court in the year 2000. The case was indeed an establishment case, and the case was argued on March 29, 2000 and was decided on June 19, 2000.

In the oral argument the petitioner was the Santa Fe Independent School District and Doe was the respondent. Jay Alan Sekulow argued the cause for the petitioner. He’s main argument was that “There, in concluding that a prayer delivered by a rabbi at a graduation ceremony violated the Establishment Clause, the Court held that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way that establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so”. Anthony P. Griffin argued the caused for the respondent. He had two main arguments, his first “The District argues unpersuasively that these principles are inapplicable because the policy’s messages are private student speech, not public speech. The delivery of a message such as the invocation here 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 is not properly characterized as “private” speech”.

The second main argument he had was “While the suit was pending, the District adopted a new policy, which permitted, but did not require, student-initiated and student-led prayer at all the home games and which authorized two student elections, the first to determine whether “invocations” should be delivered at games, and the second to select the spokesperson to deliver them. The policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion, declaring that the student elections take place because the District “has chosen to permit” student-delivered invocations, that the invocation “shall” be conducted “by the high school student council”. At the end, the decision was a yes, delivering prayers over the PA system is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It was a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens. The Court concluded “that the football game prayers were public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events and that the District’s policy involved both perceived and actual government endorsement of the delivery of prayer at important school events. Such speech is not properly characterized as private” and this was writing majority by Justice Stevens.

In Corbett, there is a similar case that is very similar to Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case. Corbett states “The Court has also held, in Lee v. Weisman (505 U.S. 577, 1992), that the practice of asking clergy to offer prayers of invocation and benediction at the beginning and end of public high school graduation ceremonies is unconstitutional, as is the practice of offering prayers before public school sporting events” (Corbett 138). In this case the big question Does the inclusion of clergy who offer prayers at official public school ceremonies violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? It was also a decided as a yes. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that “government involvement in this case creates “a state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in a public school.” Such conduct conflicts with settled rules proscribing prayer for students. The school’s rule creates subtle and indirect coercion (students must stand respectfully and silently), forcing students to act in ways which establish a state religion. The cornerstone principle of the Establishment Clause is that government may not compose official prayers to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government”. Both cases are very similar and both have to do with prayers at school events. Bringing prayers into graduation ceremonies and school sport games is basically forcing students to do something and its very uncomfortable. Besides also bringing prayer into schools is like saying there’s a specific religion in this state or school therefore if you want to attend here, you will be doing these specific practices.

Works Cited

Corbett, Michael, and Julia Corbett Hemeyer. Politics and Religion in the United States 2nd edition. New York: Routledge Pub, 2014. Print.

Lee v. Weisman. 505 U.S 577. Supreme Court of the US. 1992. Oyez. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech, n.d. Dec 14, 2016.

Rodman, Rosamond. Ever the Twain Shall Meet: Religion & Politics in the U.S. San Diego: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2015. Print

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. 530 U.S 290. Supreme Court of the US. 2000. Oyez. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech, n.d. Dec 14, 2016

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