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Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

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Title: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe  
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Subject: Lee v. Weisman, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, American Center for Law & Justice, Segraves v. California, Censorship of student media
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Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe
Argued March 29, 2000
Decided June 19, 2000
Full case name Santa Fe Independent School District, Petitioner v. Jane Doe, individually and as next friend for her minor children, Jane and John Doe, et al.
Citations 530 U.S. 290 (more)
120 S. Ct. 2266; 147 L. Ed. 2d 295
Prior history 168 F.3d 806 (5th Cir. 1999), affirmed
The policy of the school district "permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at [public high school] football games violates the Establishment Clause."
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Stevens, joined by O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Dissent Rehnquist, joined by Scalia, Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), was a case heard before the United States Supreme Court. It ruled that a policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Oral arguments were heard March 29, 2000. The court announced its decision on June 19, holding the policy unconstitutional in a 6–3 decision. School prayer is a controversial topic in American jurisprudence.


  • Background of the case 1
    • Fifth Circuit decision 1.1
  • The Court decision 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Background of the case

The Santa Fe Independent School District (SFISD), a rural school district in Texas between the cities of Houston and Galveston, allowed students to offer Christian prayers over the public address system at home football games. These prayers were given by an elected student chaplain.

Two sets of current or former students and their respective mothers—one Mormon, the other Catholic—objected to this practice and filed a suit on the basis of a violation of the Establishment Clause. Judge Samuel B. Kent of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas allowed the plaintiffs to remain anonymous to protect them from harassment. They are referred to as the Does.

During the litigation, the school changed its policy: they would hold two elections under students, the first deciding if "invocations" should be held during football games and the second to elect the student to deliver them. The students elected in favor of prayer; therefore, they were given this right.

The district court allowed this policy, though it required that they be nonsectarian and non-proselytizing. The judge's main authority was Jones v. Clear Creek ISD (Clear Creek ISD being another Houston-area school district), which allows certain school prayers. The district court's final judgment was in December 1996.

Fifth Circuit decision

Both the SFISD and the Does appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The SFISD appealed because it claimed the words 'nonsectarian and non-proselytizing' should not be necessary. The Does wanted the football prayers found unconstitutional altogether.

In a 2-1 decision, Jacques L. Wiener, Jr., and Carl E. Stewart, ruling for the court, decided that "the words 'nonsectarian, nonproselytizing' are constitutionally necessary components" of a policy governing prayer. Moreover it also decided that these student-led prayers were only acceptable at graduation, not during football games. The majority opinion was written by Wiener.[1]

E. Grady Jolly dissented, objecting that now "the majority expressly exerts control over the content of its citizens' prayers."

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, limited to the following question: "Whether petitioner's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause."

The Court decision

The Court held that the policy allowing the student-led prayer at the football games was unconstitutional. The majority opinion, written by Justice Stevens, depended on Lee v. Weisman.[2] It held that these pre-game prayers delivered "on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school's public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer" are not private, but public speech. "Regardless of the listener's support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pregame prayer as stamped with her school's seal of approval." A dissenting opinion was written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. His dissent asserted that the majority opinion "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life". His material objections were, first that the policy on which the Court has now ruled had not yet been put in to practice. "[T]he question is not whether the district's policy may be applied in violation of the Establishment Clause, but whether it inevitably will be." Second, Rehnquist also stated that the speech in question would be private, chosen and delivered by the speaker, rather than public, school-sponsored speech.

See also


  1. ^ Opinion of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
  2. ^ 505 U.S. 577 (1992)

External links

Works related to Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe at Wikisource

  • Text of Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  LII 

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