Separation of Player and Prayer

March 19, 1999

There will always be prayers before tests and football games. But if a federal appeals court ruling is upheld, prayers before football games will have to be silent, individual prayers. According to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, student-led prayers at high school football games are unconstitutional. The Court also ruled that limited prayers at public graduation ceremonies are permissible.

So how can the court rule against prayers at football games but allow prayers at graduation? Well, according to the court, football games don't share the "singularly serious nature" of graduations. While that is no doubt true, I don't think that should be a justification for banning football prayers. But this court seems to believe in the separation of player and prayer.

The case involved the Santa Fe Independent School District which sought to allow prayers before football games and also attempted to remove restrictions against mentioning the name of Jesus at graduation ceremonies. The 1996 case continued the restrictions at graduation ceremonies and allowed for prayers at football games following the same restrictions. The Circuit Court decision maintains the restrictions on graduation prayers and forbids football prayers.

If all of this strikes you as absurd, it should. Three decades ago the Supreme Court made a distinction between mandatory prayers led by faculty and administration and voluntary prayers led by students. The Circuit Court ruling actually forbids student-led prayers at football games and restricts them at other functions. According to their reading of the Constitution, student-led prayers are not a free exercise of religion or free speech. They wrongly argue that football prayers constitute an establishment of religion. Frankly I think if a referee were to look at the replay, he would flag their ruling for illegal procedure and declare it out of bounds.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.