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Football Resumes Without Prayer

September 2, 2000

SANTA FE, Texas (AP) _ Football returned to Santa Fe High School with all the pomp and circumstance of Texas’ Friday night football passion, but without the usual prayers.

At the public school where the seeds for the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling banning school-sanctioned pre-game prayer were sown, fewer than 200 in a crowd of about 4,500 prayed out loud before the game in protest.

The bold predictions of 10,000 Christians converging on the season opener to recite ``The Lord’s Prayer″ never materialized.

The Texas-based group No Pray No Play, from the town of Temple, led a statewide movement to encourage Christians to pray as soon as the National Anthem was finished at their respective games Friday.

But when the moment came in Santa Fe, the loudspeakers _ which the high court said could not be used for religious speech _ drowned out the handful of praying fans with the announcement of the opposing team’s arrival on the field.

About six people drove 175 miles from Temple to Santa Fe for the prayer session, a few others wore shirts created by No Pray No Play.

``We didn’t come here to be Christian bullies, we just want to express our feelings,″ said Roman Young, a 10th grader from nearby Dickinson. ``We started this nation to have freedom of religion, and we wanted to show that it’s still important.″

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that amplified, student-led prayer approved by public school officials crossed the line in the separation of church and state.

The Santa Fe Independent School District was the defendant in the case. After the ruling, it ended its tradition of pre-game prayer.

``The loudspeakers are paid for with our tax dollars, so we should be able to use them as we wish,″ Jackie Nelson, a Santa Fe resident, said from the stands Friday night. ``If other groups want to pray that way, let them put their Buddhas or their wooden statues up and there and pray to their dead gods.″

The prayer advocates had an unusual ally in their argument that the First Amendment gives them the right to free speech, including prayer: the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped successfully argue against the district.

``That is exactly the kind of freedom we’re fighting for. The only place we have a concern is if the groups are going to try to get an official place in the program, or use the public address systems,″ said Martin Mayne, president of the Houston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

``The simple act of any group deciding they want to voice any opinion, that’s speech we fight 100 percent of the time to protect,″ Mayne said.

Friday’s recitation paled in comparison to other pre-game expressions of faith at football games around the country since the high court’s ruling.

High school football began last week in some states, and prayer demonstrations already have occurred, most notably in Hattiesburg, Miss., when 4,500 stood to pray before a game. In Asheville, N.C., 25,000 people gathered at a football stadium for a rally sponsored by a group urging the recitation of ``The Lord’s Prayer″ at football games.

In Spring Valley, W.Va., one high school football player and a local radio station believed they found a way around the Supreme Court ruling. From the high school’s field Friday, Dave McCallister recited a prayer over WRVC-FM/AM.

Offering to broadcast a prayer doesn’t violate the court ruling because it gives people a choice, said Spring Valley Principal Barry Scragg. ``If they don’t want to hear the prayer, they can turn the radio off.″


On the Net:

The decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-62.ZS.html



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