Everything is big in Texas, the saying goes, and a lawsuit filed in the Lone Star State brought one of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court rulings on record regarding school prayer.
Two school prayer cases – one each from New York and Texas – are among 22 "landmark" decisions of the High Court listed on its website, United States Courts.
That site identifies those as the Supreme Court’s 1962 ruling in the New York case of Engel and Vitale banning public schools from initiating prayer in the classroom, and its 2000 decision in the Texas case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe banning students from using a public school’s loudspeaker system to initiate and lead prayer. The latter ruling strongly reaffirmed the High Court’s earlier decisions prohibiting schools from sponsoring or promoting religious activity at their events, according to The Civil Rights Monitor.
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The lawsuit against the Santa Fe district was initiated anonymously in 1995 by two families – a Mormon family and a Catholic family, which later joined them – with both feeling discriminated against and harassed in the largely Southern Baptist community, according to Mormons Today.
The plaintiffs contended the district violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prevents the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion," through its policy of allowing students to elect a classmate to say a prayer over the public address system before each football game, the Monitor said.
The Supreme Court subsequently ruled 6-3 that the pre-game prayer communicated a government religious endorsement and thus violated the Establishment Clause, said First Amendment Schools.
The High Court explained on its website: “A majority of the Court rejected the school's argument that since the prayer was student initiated and student led, as opposed to officially sponsored by the school, it did not violate the First Amendment. The Court held that this action did constitute school-sponsored prayer because the loudspeakers that the students used for their invocations were owned by the school.”
The three dissenting judges contended the majority opinion issued in the case "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life," the Monitor said.
Texas also was the scene of a federal judge’s 2011 ruling – which was later overruled – banning the Medina Valley Independent School District from making public prayer a part of its high school graduation. Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery issued the decision banning the district’s students from using certain, specific religious words – including "amen" and "prayer" – at the ceremony and requiring them to replace the words "invocation" and "benediction" with "opening remarks" and "closing remarks," Fox News reported.
It said Biery issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed by Danny and Christa Schultz, parents of a student scheduled to take part in the ceremony.
The school district appealed and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in its favor, concluding the prayer involved was Constitutional because it was student-led and not school-sponsored, Pantheos reported.
The Schultz’s son then missed his graduation ceremony. It indicated that after Americans United for the Separation of Church and State investigated and filed an amended complaint saying it had found other evidence that the school was promoting Christianity, the two sides settled out of court.
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