Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe
530 U.S. 290 (2000)

  • Before every football game at Santa Fe high school, a student would say a prayer for good luck.
    • Is it obvious that Santa Fe high school is in Texas…?
  • Several students (aka Doe) sued, claiming that the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.
  • The Trial Court entered an order modifying the school policy to allow only non-sectarian, non-proselytizing prayers. Both sides appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The School Board appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that even non-sectarian, non-proselytizing prayers still violated the Establishment Clause.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the prayers amounted to a government endorsement of religion. Therefore it is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
      • “Regardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to, the message, an objective Santa Fe High School student will unquestionably perceive the inevitable pre-game prayer as stamped with her school’s seal of approval.”
    • The School Board unsuccessfully argued that the speech was private speech, since the prayers were voluntarily given by students, not by school officials. However, the Court found that since the prayers were at a school-sponsored event, they counted as public speech.
  • Fundamentally, the Court applied the Lemon Test to this case, and found that the school prayers both advanced religion, and created excessive government entanglement with religion.
    • The Lemon Test requires that:
      • The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose,
      • The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion,
      • The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.
    • See Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602 (1971)).