Parties: John and Joe Does (Named Anonymously), Plaintiffs/Appellants Santa Fe Independent School District, Defendant/Appellee
Procedural History: plaintiffs filed a suit secretly as John and Joe Does in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas against Santa Fe Independent School District when students voted by their colleagues were forced to give prior-game prayers over the public address system during high school football games (Horwitz, 2008). The appellants argued that the prayers accrued as an endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause. The appellees noted that the pre-game prayers were a component of an ancient tradition practiced by communities in Texas. In addition, the defendant argued that the prayers were done by students; hence, the prayers could not be classified as state-sponsored communication.
Issue: the main concern in this case was if prayers led by the students before high school games over the public address system goes against the Establishment Clause.
Holding: Yes, pre-game prayers given by elected students before high school games communicate a government religious authorization; hence, goes against the Establishment Clause.
Reasoning: the Court was not convinced by the respondents arguments that the student-led prayers were private and not state-sponsored. Santa Fe Independent High School had control over the content in students speeches. For this reason, the pre-game prayers reflected government preference for speech or notions aligned with religion. In addition, Santa Fe Independent High School election policy was skewed to maintain the exercise of pre-game prayers (Horwitz, 2008). On another note, the Court noted that the adopted voting mechanisms utilized by Santa Fe Independent High School to determine the messages to be delivered and who to deliver them elicited rivalry; hence, exacerbating various issues contained in the Establishment Clauses. In a nutshell, the above-connoted factors contributed to the Courts findings that the policy on pre-game messages adopted by the district led to real and perceived endorsement of religion by the government, thus was unconstitutional.
Decision: The Court ruled for the plaintiffs by holding to the fact that forcing students give programmed prayer messages was invalid and go against the Establishment Clause. The pre-game prayer messages were delivered under the supervision of the school. As a result, the prayer messages may not be classified as private. In addition, the manner of delivery of the prayer messages; through public address system encourages the adoption of the prayer messages by the general public, which may also not be classified as private speech. Overall, the Court concluded that under the Establishment Clause, the school districts pre-game prayer messages were unacceptable (Hankins, 2001).
Comment: this case gives insights as to why government institutions should streamline their policies to ensure that messages communicated to the public discourse within their contexts do not infringe on Constitutional Clauses that govern such institutions. The use of publicly-communicated prayer messages within public institutions infringes on the constitutional right of worship or religion as enshrined in the constitution.
Hankins, B. (2001). Commentary: Is the Supreme Court Hostile to Religion?: Good News Club et al. v. Milford Central School (2001) and Santa Fe v. Doe (2000). Journal of Church and State, 43(4), 681-687.
Horwitz, P. (2008). Of Football, Footnote One, and the Counter-Jurisdictional Establishment Clause: The Story of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal.
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