A Case of Quit Praying and Start Playing?

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All these years you've prayed silently for your high school football team to score; now, the United States Supreme Court is going to decide whether you can do it out loud. The battle over the separation of Church and State in schools moved onto the sports field Monday, as the Supreme Court elected to review a Texas high court decision banning student-led group prayers at football games. The case arises from a 1995 complaint in the Santa Fe school district near Galveston against the local school board's decision to allow students to read any message or "invocation" over the PA system at halftime. A Federal judge ruled that such messages and prayers could go on — if they were "nonsectarian and nonproselytizing." But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled prayer at football games to be completely out of bounds.

With school prayer a hot-button conservative issue, the Supreme Court is under growing pressure to clarify the boundaries of constitutional permissibility of high school piety. Choosing the football game's halftime show as the place to make its ruling may, however, be a mixed blessing to prayer advocates. After all, the Appeals Court in its ruling included something of a religious critique of the idea of halftime prayer when it noted that a football game was "hardly the sober type of... event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer." But the Supreme Court is unlikely to try and adjudicate on the question of when devotional references are appropriate and when they're inappropriate. After all, how long would it be before the Justices were forced to consider the constitutionality of calling it the Hail Mary pass?