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Supreme Court Rules Prayer Before Texas Football Games Violates First Amendment

Aired June 19, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The highest court in the land says organized prayer is out-of-bounds at public high school football games. A six to three decision, handed down this morning, come from a Texas-sized defeat for a state where the only thing bigger than high school football is God himself.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a stadium in Santa Fe, Texas, before a high school football game:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear heavenly father, I pray your presence in the stadium tonight.

MELISSA ROGERS, BAPTIST JOINT COMMITTEE: Any reasonable observer would see this as an endorsement of prayer when it is given from the government-controlled mic as a part of the program and that is coercive of students who are simply coming for a public school football game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christians are part of the public.

BIERBAUER: Last season's prayer policy spurred as much action outside the stadium as in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're standing for freedom from religion.

BIERBAUER: Two families, one Mormon, one Catholic, who filed suit have not been publicly identified.

ROGERS: The very fact that the people who have complained have had to remain anonymous is one indicator that their community has been quite hostile to them.

BIERBAUER: The school district contends it's simply given students the chance to choose their own pregame speakers.

JAY SEKULOW, SANTA FE SCHOOL DIST. ATTY.: It allowed for speech that was a message, secular message, or an invocation. So it's neutral on its face. It says, say whatever you want to say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BIERBAUER: But the Supreme Court ruled that it was not neutral; that this was, in fact, a government or school district, in this case, encouragement of religion and prayer. The court found that this was government policy on government property at a government-sponsored event; and that it violated the First Amendment.

Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the six justice majority said that there was an insufficient guarantee that diverse views would be heard. One diverse view heard on this court, from the three justices in dissent, led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, said that this opinion bristles with hostility to any expression of religion in public life -- Lou.

WATERS: Is this the last we'll hear of this, Charles?

BIERBAUER: Well, no, it's not the last we'll hear of the issue, it is of this particular case which the court very narrowly limited to the question of school prayer, or student prayer at these football games down in Texas.

It did not address, for example, though it could have, the matter of prayer at a graduation ceremony. And indeed there was another case that is pending before the court which we would expect to hear perhaps next week: as to whether the court will hear arguments in a case that raises the question of prayer by a valedictorian.

So there are other cases coming forward and it is not, of course, the last we will hear about school prayer.

WATERS: All right, CNN's national correspondent Charles Bierbauer at the Supreme Court,

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