The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

First Amendment

What was the Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe case on school prayer and what did the U.S. Supreme Court decide?

The 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision on school prayer was a case involving prayers announced over a loudspeaker at Texas high school football games. In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the Court ruled 6 to 3 that the practice violated the Establishment Clause in part because most observers would believe that the school was endorsing religion. Even though the student body voted on whether to have the prayers or not, the Court reasoned that the policy meant that majoritarian religious preferences would also trump those of the minority.

Justice John Paul Stevens (majority): “The actual or perceived endorsement of the message, moreover, is established by factors beyond just the text of the policy. Once the student speaker is selected and the message composed, the invocation is then delivered to a large audience assembled as part of a regularly scheduled, school-sponsored function conducted on school property. The message is broadcast over the school’s public address system, which remains subject to the control of school officials. It is fair to assume that the pregame ceremony is clothed in the traditional indicia of school sporting events, which generally include not just the team, but also cheerleaders and band members dressed in uniforms sporting the school name and mascot.”

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (dissenting): “The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”


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