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In a broad defeat for the religious right, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Texas public schools may not begin football games with organized prayer, even when recited by a student. The 6-3 decision is likely to reinject the high court into presidential politics. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed Republican candidate, actively supported the Santa Fe, Texas, school district in its fight to foster prayer at football games. Late Monday, Bush said of the decision, “I support the constitutionally guaranteed right of all students to express their faith freely and participate in voluntary student-led prayer.” But Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that the district’s “majoritarian process” of allowing students to elect one of their own to give a season’s worth of football game messages “guarantees … that minority candidates will never prevail and that their views will effectively be silenced.” He added: “School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in an angry dissent joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said the majority opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.” The ruling in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe suggests a recommitment by the Court to the strict “Lemon test” for evaluating church-state cases, following a 15-year-long flirtation by conservative justices with adopting a standard that would be more accommodating to religious practices. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, who had both expressed doubts about the 1971 decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, appear now to be reconciled to it. Rehnquist lamented that the majority in Santa Fe had applied “the most rigid version” of the Lemon test, which evaluates secular purpose, entanglement and advancement of religion in determining whether a state action violates the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. In a separate action Monday, the Court declined to review a case involving a Louisiana school district’s creationism policy. The same three justices who dissented in the Texas prayer case wrote that they would have heard the creationism case, Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education v. Freiler. Scalia, noting that a majority of the Court had expressed doubts about Lemon, said he would have taken up the case “to inter the Lemon test once and for all.” The Santa Fe decision also closes off one of the most promising routes that advocates of school prayer were pursuing: framing their fight in terms of student free speech, rather than officially sanctioned prayer. “The Court has drawn the line,” said a disappointed Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and chief architect of the strategy. “I’m disappointed at the hostility the Court showed toward student speech.” Sekulow said it is possible that if a school adopted a “totally neutral” method of selecting a student speaker-such as the student with the highest grade-point average-instead of a majoritarian election, the prayer that the speaker then chooses to give might have a better chance of passing constitutional muster. Language in the Stevens majority will probably bolster church-state separationists in a broad range of disputes. Cases involving prayer at graduations in Alabama and Florida are pending before the high court, and could be sent back to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as soon as next week in light of the Santa Fe decision. Other disputes over state “moment of silence” statutes could also be affected by Monday’s ruling. “This effectively puts an end to student votes on prayer,” said Steve Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The same logic applies to graduation prayer.” Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “The Court has reaffirmed the principle that prayer cannot be imposed on young people against their will. Mob rule on religion has no place in our public schools.” The Texas district’s policy was challenged by two families — one Mormon and one Catholic — whose real names were not used in the litigation because they feared reprisals. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the families and struck the policy down. Fundamental to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case was Stevens’ assertion that by devising a policy to allow pregame prayer, the Texas school district had not created a public forum in which the student’s speech freedoms would be given greater protection. Instead, the school policy allowed only for “appropriate” messages and imposed other guidelines that give the student’s message “the imprint of the state.” Jan LaRue of the conservative Family Research Council was critical of this aspect of the decision. “The Court has made a high school student an agent of the state and then censored her prayer.” The prayer takes place on school property and is broadcast over the school’s public address system, Stevens noted. And even though attending football games is not required, Stevens said, students feel “immense social pressure” to do so. “Even if we regard every high school student’s decision to attend a home football game as purely voluntary,” Stevens said, “we are nonetheless persuaded that the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship.” Stevens’ only concession to student religious practices came late in his opinion: “Nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday. But the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Rehnquist expressed concern that the majority’s logic could be used against a school that sponsors the singing of the national anthem at a football game, because the anthem’s concluding verse is “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’” Also Monday, the Court: � Ruled 5-4 to uphold a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 that limits federal court supervision of state prisons. Acting in Miller v. French, the court said Congress could impose a deadline on federal judges who are considering state requests for an end to court oversight of prison conditions. Charles Hobson, an attorney with the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said of the decision, “Now the states with prisons meeting the national standards, can free themselves from the yoke of federal court meddling without needless delay.” � Ruled in a long-standing water dispute that the Quechan Tribe is entitled to seek rights to additional water from the Colorado River. The 6-3 ruling in the case of Arizona v. California said the tribe should be able to assert its claim that it owns about 25,000 acres of Fort Yuma Reservation land on the border between the two states. � Agreed to decide whether adult bookstores that are denied city licenses must be allowed to stay open while they pursue appeals in court. In the case of City News and Novelty v. City of Waukesha, owners of a Wisconsin adult bookstore said that by forcing it to close during appeals, the city was imposing an unconstitutional prior restraint on protected First Amendment activities.

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