March 26, 1999
AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn and Governor George W. Bush today filed an amici curiae brief in Doe v. Santa Fe Independent School District supporting the rights of students to gather in prayer. In the brief, they request that the entire Fifth Circuit Appeals Court reconsider the decision.
"I filed this brief because I support the First Amendment rights of students to gather and participate in protected religious speech," said General Cornyn. "The panel's decision asks the state to decide what type of prayer should be allowed. To ask the state to supervise religious speech is clearly unconstitutional," he added.
The school district's policy allows the graduating class to choose by secret ballot whether to have an invocation and benediction as part of their graduation ceremony. Students could similarly elect whether to have a brief invocation during the pre-game ceremonies of home varsity football games.
On February 26, 1999, a panel of three members of the Fifth Circuit held that these policies violated the First Amendment because they did not prohibit "sectarian" or "proselytizing" prayers by students. Although the Court held that the schools could allow students to deliver prayers at graduation as long as they are nonsectarian and nonproselytizing, the Court ruled that even student-initiated prayers are never permissible at school-sponsored football games.
The state has "an interest in this case because the panel's majority opinion requires State officials to review and essentially censor student-initiated and student-given speech even though there is no State involvement in the decision that the speech occur or in the selection of the speaker. The State's interest here is substantial and direct, because the holding will emanate far beyond public school sponsored events." (Page 1, Amici Curiae Brief)
"Under the majority opinion:
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