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Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

    Brief Fact Summary. A group of public high school students are opposed to pre-game prayers before football games.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The state cannot force sponsored religious activity on its citizens by forcing them to choose between attendance and their own constitutionally protected rights.

    Facts. Doe (Respondent) includes a number of current and former students both Mormon and Catholic who oppose prayer before each football game. Santa Fe (Petitioner) developed a policy that authorized two student elections. One was held to determine whether “invocations” should be delivered before the games, and the second one was to select a student prayer leader.

    Issue. Does student lead prayers at public high school football games violate the Establishment Clause?

    Held. Yes. Delivery of a pre-game prayer forces the audience to participate in religion. The prayer content, the speaker, and whether to have a prayer were all supported by school policy and endorsed by the school administration. There is no clear separation of church and state as required by the United States Constitution.

    Dissent. The school policy has a plausible secular purpose that should be deferred to and not discarded as the school district voters see the legitimacy of this purpose.

    Discussion. Pre-game invocations are not “private speech” because they are authorized by government policy and take place on government property at a government-sponsored event. They are not the type of forum discussed in Rosenberger because the pre-game activity is not open to indiscriminate use. By creating the policy, Respondent has a significant level of involvement that makes it clear that Respondent encourages the practice of religion.


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