Today in Supreme Court History

Today in Supreme Court History: August 31, 1995

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

8/31/1995: Students at Santa Fe Independent School District voted to allow a student to say a prayer at football games. In Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000), the Supreme Court declared this prayer unconstitutional.

The Rehnquist Court


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  1. Not an accurate description of what happened.

    1. How so? Seriously inquiry. From the syllabus:

      “While the suit was pending, petitioner school district (District) adopted a different policy, which authorizes two student elections, the first to determine whether “invocations” should be delivered at games, and the second to select the spokesperson to deliver them.”

      1. Josh makes it sound like a student was “allowed” to pray at a football game. In fact it was a school-sanctioned prayer service. The fact that the students had voted for it makes no difference.

        1. The crux of the case was the argument there was no state coercion of prayer since the students voted. The Court found otherwise.

          1. Prof. Blackman knew what he was doing with this inaccurate language. It is just the morning’s lathering of the rubes.

            1. I don’t see how it is inaccurate. The students voted to allow prayer. Your assertion is that doesn’t matter, but that was one of the key facts of the case (and from what I recall part of the overall litigation strategy.) Your take is it was an official school event and the administration could not delegate that away by saying “well the students voted….” That is a fair argument and one that prevailed, but I don’t see how the description is not accurate.

              1. A student is always allowed to say a prayer at a football game. During the opening kickoff, between plays, at the concession stand, hoping to catch a glimpse of a crush, in the bleachers, when taking a dump, during the halftime band performance, while trying to catch a long pass . . . whenever a student wishes to say a prayer at a football game, that student is always entitled to say a prayer.

                Superstitious people have rights, too.

          2. And Jimmy, what I don’t understand is how the “Southworth Decision” [Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000)] wasn’t an outright reversal of this.

            In both cases, the First Amendment was subjected to a popular vote of the student body. Here as to a prayer, in Southworth which speech would be funded (and which wouldn’t — although O’Connor never really discussed that).

            And I’d love to see an explanation of why these two cases aren’t inconsistent.

            1. the First Amendment was subjected to a popular vote of the student body.

              Gee. You mean the students can vote to ignore the First Amendment?

  2. That was a sad case and reinforced that Christians are second class citizens in their own country.

    1. No, what it reinforced is that Christians are not allowed to make everybody else second class citizens in their own country.

      1. That is a rather obtuse and bigoted view.

        1. Why should non-Christians have to stop what they’re doing to pay show respect to the Christian deity? How is it obtuse and bigoted to say that you don’t get to practice your religion on my time?

          1. It is obvious you hate Christians and are taking out that bigotry on them by abusing our Constitution and Courts.

            1. Open wider, Jimmy. Even more progress on the way, and soon.

              Conspirators and their fans hardest hit.

            2. I think you’re not being serious with Krychek_2, as shown by your moving to pure insults.

              The Court’s ruling bans all prayer, not just Christian prayer.

              1. There is something called TOLERANCE Sarcastro. Anti-religious zealots should try it every now and then instead of just bossing around religious people with their obtuse bigotry.

                1. Jimmy, I don’t hate Christians, but even if I did that wouldn’t be the point. It’s not bigoted to say that you don’t get to drag me into your religious practice. Say whatever prayers you want, just not on my time.

                2. There is something called coercion. We do not tolerate coercive behavior.

                  That, again, is universal across all faiths and rituals.

                  But you change the subject and lay the insults on thick because you’re not serious about the issue. You’re just throwing outrage at the wall and trying to amuse yourself.

                  1. You tolerate all sorts of coercive behavior when it is behavior you like. You calling out Jimmy for coercive behavior is a laugh.

                    1. I didn’t think I had to specify, but the Establishment Clause doesn’t tolerate the specific type of coercion at issue here.

                      Government coercion in general is fine. It’s most of what the government does, by carrot, stick, or example.

                    2. Oh so asking people to be TOLERANT is now trolling, OK gotcha….

                  2. Or you could just learn to check your bigotry and learn some tolerance. Doesn’t seem too hard and what we ask of every other adult in a pluralistic society….

                    1. A complete failure to engage.

                      As I said, you’re trolling.

                      You’re not a serious person.

                    2. What makes the clingers figure that the American mainstream will accept the ‘heads we win, tales you lose’ approach favored by Republicans with respect to religious claims?

                      The snapback against religious kooks is going to resemble that involving gun nuts and anti-abortion absolutists.

                      Losing a culture war has consequences.

                  3. “We do not tolerate coercive behavior.”


                    1. Here forgot the *:

                      *except when it comes to forcing liberal policies then it is OK

                    2. You forgot the * again.

            3. It is obvious you think all non-Christians hate Christians.

              You are wrong. I hate only those Christians who insist on shoving Christianity down my throat, and in a case like this, using majority rule to do so makes it even worse. If you can’t see that, if the distinction is beyond your grasp, then you are triply hated for being so willfully obtuse.

              1. Christians praying is not “shoving Christianity down (your) throat”. It is Christians practicing a fundamentally important part of their religion. You seek to deny them that because you are ignorant to their beliefs.

                1. Nobody stops them from praying, you bigoted right-wing rube.

                  They don’t get to use the public address system and delay the game for everyone to celebrate their childish superstition, though. This is America.

                  1. And as I said you are fine with Christians practicing their religion as long as they do it away from you in second class status.

                    1. You know, once Christianity is no longer the dominant religion in the United States, you’re going to be mighty glad for separation of church and state. Your desire to mix church and state is founded on the dubious assumption that your religion will always be the one in power.

                    2. How will it change. Liberals already demand we tolerate every other religion. So we will just have to do that more. I think it is you who will look back fondly when the majority religion was Christianity and you realize that all Christians wanted to do was be able to practice their unassuming religion.

                    3. I’m not aware of any other religion insisting that the rest of us take time to recognize their deity. When was the last time the Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Flying Spaghetti Monsterites insisted on starting a football came, or an algebra class, with prayer? And if one of them did, the answer for them should be the same as the answer to you; Pray on your own time.

                    4. Second class?

                      What “first-class” religions get to coerce others to participate in their prayers?

                    5. Would you feel the same way if the prayers at issue had been directed to Baal, Jimmy? Or to Satan?

                  2. “you’re going to be mighty glad for separation of church and state”

                    Sounds like a threat. Don’t you believe in toleration?

                    1. I do, but I’m also a cold, hard realist.

                      One of the most remarkable recurring themes in the history and sociology of religion is how whenever a persecuted religious minority becomes politically dominant, it immediately begins persecuting everybody else. This has happened so many times it’s hard to keep track.

                      When Christianity has had political power it has generally been pretty oppressive with it, though there are counter-examples. But then, so has everybody else. And separation of church and state exists to put an outer limit on just how badly the dominant religion is allowed to treat religious minorities.

                      Every sign points to Christianity being on the way out. It will be replaced with something else, though it’s too early to tell what. (I wish I shared Arthur Kirkland’s optimism that it’s going to be enlightened reason.) And whatever that “what” is, there is zero reason to believe that its adherents will be any more likely to be tolerant than anyone else has been.

                      At which point, if you’re still alive, you’re going to be mighty glad we have separation of church and state.

                    2. I am not a Christian.

                      Sounds like Christians should make sure their enemies never achieve power though.

                    3. This may be a silly question, but if you’re not a Christian, then what do you care where Christianity is in the food chain?

                      As an unbeliever, my own view is that so long as they leave me alone, one set of imaginary friends looks like another to me. I see it all as an internal dispute among theists. And so long as nobody is actively persecuting me, I can’t say as I really care which religion is the majority religion.

                      Contrary to Jimmy the Dane’s claim that I hate Christianity, I’m actually indifferent. So long as I’m left alone.

                    4. Christians are fellow believers, who, after long error, are great friends of the Jews.

                      I support my cousins, even though they are heretics.

                    5. Bob, I’ve long said that if you want to blame the Jews for a terrible thing they actually did do, blame them for inventing monotheism. Oh the misery that could have been avoided.

                      You do realize that Christians love Jews because their end times theology holds that Israel is necessary for Jesus to return to destroy all those who don’t believe in him, including the Jews, right? You’re basically a prop in their doctrine of the apocalypse.

                    6. “(I wish I shared Arthur Kirkland’s optimism that it’s going to be enlightened reason.)”

                      I encourage you to reject the temptation of despair and join the Congregation Of Exalted Reason.

                      Choose reason. Every time.

                      Why not be a winner in the culture war? Is this very blog not a revelation of the inevitability of victory for reason, education, science, progress, freedom, modernity, and inclusiveness?

                      Choose reason. Every time.

                      Thank you.

                    7. Arthur, reason is never going to be able to compete with religion because religion is warm and comforting and reason just isn’t. It’s far more pleasant to believe that the Lord of the Universe is my best friend than it is to believe that we’re here on our own and have to work things out for ourselves. Even though the evidence is that we’re on our own.

                      In public opinion, warm and cuddly beats cold and spiky every time.

                    8. “Warm and cuddly” in the context of religion is Becki Falwell with the pool boy as Jerry Falwell (and, we may learn someday, Donald Trump) watching from the corner.

                      America becomes less religious every day as our nation progresses.

                      The Congregation Of Exalted Reason is the one true way.

      2. And yet whichever coalition that wins a student government election should have an equal right to make everyone a second class citizen in their own country?

    2. The point of these rituals is to use state power to say “bow down heathens, and worship my deity”.

      And that’s wrong.

      1. America is improving. Our electorate becomes less religious, less rural, more diverse, less bigoted, and less backward each days.

        Even more progress is unavoidable.

        Thank goodness.

        1. Honestly, it’s only really white Southern Protestantism that pushes these rituals. There’s plenty of religious people in other parts of the country that are just fine worshiping their deity without asking non-believers to participate in their rituals.

          School prayer is a 20-80 issue.

          1. 2014 Gallup poll said 61% favored daily school prayer, down from 66% in 2001

            Couldn’t find a later one

            1. That’s not what I mean though. i mean only 20 percent of the public think school prayer is a crucial issue. And those people are concentrated among white Southern Protestants who hold a very sadistic, “everyone else is going to burn in hell for eternity” theology. The rest of the public either oppose school prayer or don’t think it’s that important.

              1. “sadistic”

                Yeah, I think maybe we can ignore your opinion of Christian theology.

                1. Christian theology should not be ignored.

                  It is just as important as the Star Wars canon, the Star Trek debates, the Brothers Grimm Children’s And Household Tales, and the collected wisdom of Sen. John Blutarsky.

                  That something is fictional doesn’t make it unimportant.

                  1. Like 57 genders? I consider those fictional…

                  2. Or all the “hate crimes” the left have ginned up to support their fictional narratives?

                2. Bob, lustily hoping your adversaries will be subject to eternal torture is sadistic.

                  If you think Jesus actually demands this, than you worship an evil sadist.

                  Notably, many versions of Christian theology exist that do not contain this sort of hate.

        2. Kirkland apparently thinks Portland OR is good, Portland ME is bad.
          (Actually, Portland ME isn’t much better anymore, but it, too, is a city.)

          Kirkland apparently never learned about the French Revolution, particularly about how it ended.

          1. Did the liberals — the good guys — win?

      2. You mean like BLM protesters demanding you bow down to their gods?

        1. Just to be clear, those people who showed up at that restaurant and tried to force the diners to raise their hands were ghouls.

          But most BLM types are not doing crap like that.

          1. A lot of people say that but no one is going on national media to denounce them.

          2. “But most BLM types are not doing crap like that.”

            Correct, burning and looting instead.

            1. Quit whining, Bob.

              Try to accept your defeat with dignity.

          3. “But most BLM types are not doing crap like that.”

            Oh, really……

            1. Outside the confirmation-biased fever dreams of the right, he’s correct.

        2. To the extent that BLMers are doing that, they’re not doing it with the imprimatur of the state, which is a fairly significant difference.

          1. No just with the backing of universities, big corporations, NGO’s, community organizations, Big Tech, etc. etc. Just thank goodness they don’t have the official backing of the state (yet…)

            1. Right, it’s all a massive conspiracy.

            2. No its called constituent coordination.

              1. And you can’t prove it because the media are in on it!!

                1. Just about every big corp went all in on BLM in June. Do you deny it?

                  Its not a conspiracy, its just fact.

                  1. But I thought you liked the free market? Which is precisely what this is; the free market of ideas. Big corporations have decided it’s to their financial benefit to support BLM, so that’s what they’re doing.

      3. How is hearing someone speak to his devotion to the Lord any different from hearing someone speak to his devotion to sodomy?

        The state is not demanding that you practice either.

        1. I’m fine with students “hearing about” Christianity in a comparative religion class. A well rounded education includes learning about different belief systems, which would also cover gay people talking about their life experiences.

          But that’s not what happens with officially sanctioned prayer. With that, you’re not just hearing about it; you’re participating in it, even if you’re thinking about other things. Just by virtue of having your life interrupted so someone can say a prayer means you’re participating in it.

          1. As opposed to having to listen to the Bitchy Little Marxists?
            How is that not having my life interrupted?

            1. Their “religion” is government. It is fine to indoctrinate in that because well it just is, shut up.

        2. The state isn’t demanding that I listen to someone “speak to his devotion to sodomy,” and it shouldn’t demand that I listen to someone “speak to his devotion to the Lord.” No matter what the students voted.

          Do both on your own time, in your own place.

          1. “The state isn’t demanding that I listen to someone “speak to his devotion to sodomy,”

            “GOV. J.B. PRITZKER signed legislation Friday making Illinois the fourth state to requiring public schools to teach LGBT history.”

            Slowly they are.

            1. They can teach bible study as well.

            2. Relax, Bob.

              That’s Illinois. You are likely to be replaced long before that level of progress reaches Can’t-Keep-Up, Ohio.

            3. Teaching LGBT history is not hearing someone “speak to his devotion to sodomy.”

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