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Lawsuit Announced After School Prayer Prohibited at Football Game

November 23rd, 2018

A high school student is suing his school board after they refused to allow him to conduct school prayer before football games.

A high school student is suing his school board after they refused to allow him to conduct school prayer before football games.

A 17-year-old student in Arab City, Alabama recently announced plans to pursue legal action against the Arab City School Board after it rejected his request to conduct a school prayer during a home football game. While it remains uncertain how this case will resolve, it provides a good example of the various conflicts involved in the separation between religious practice and public schools.

Federal Law on School Prayer at Athletic Events

A school district’s policy of allowing student-led school prayer at athletic events including football games is unconstitutional under the Constitution. It is also against the rules of the Constitution for school officials to lead prayer or to be involved with it in any way.

School officials are also prohibited from asking team members to initiate or lead prayer during or after school-sponsored athletic events. The clergy is similarly prohibited from performing the function of prayer leaders at school events.

Previous Case Law

The letter received by the student from the Arab City School board cites Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe as the basis for the school board’s decision. The Santa Fe case, which occurred in the year 2000, banned pregame school prayer.

The case arose when a student at the Santa Fe Independent School District delivered a school prayer over the public address system before home varsity football games. The lawsuit was initiated by one Mormon and one Catholic family who challenged these prayers under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While the lawsuit was pending, the District adopted a policy that allowed student-led prayer at home games.

A Court of Appeals later held that this policy was invalid. The Santa Fe School District responded by claiming that its policy did not violate the Establishment Clause because the football games were private rather than public speech.

In a 6-to-3 opinion, the Supreme Court of the United States later held that the District’s policy of allowing student-led school prayer at football games violated the Establishment Clause. The Court found that prayers at football game did constitute public speech that was authorized by the government.

The Future of the Case

The student who received the letter announced that he, along with fourteen other residents of Arab City, have plans to pursue a lawsuit against the School Board. The student also announced that he believes he will win in court because the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. The student, however, did note that he intends to obey the school board’s decision temporarily.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

While the root of many of these laws have existed since the creation of the country, there are various cases over the years that have tested exactly how these laws are applied. Each month, the Universal Life Church’s blog strives to document the various issues involved with the separation between church and state.

(image courtesy of joao-victor-xavier)

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