Summarized by Kent Larsen
Lawsuit by Mormons Involving School Prayer Only Part Of Continuing War
("Government-sponsored prayer" decried by ACLU)
Houston TX Chronicle pg31 29Jan00 N1
By Jo Ann Zuniga
Group to go to high court in Santa Fe flap
God, country and Constitution
Albany NY Times-Union (AP) 16Jan00 N1
By Julia Lieblich and Richard Ostling, Associated Press
HOUSTON, TEXAS -- ACLU President Nadine Strossen spoke to a group at
Texas Southern University on January 28th about the school prayer
lawsuit filed by a Mormon family. Strossen told the audience that the
case is about the most difficult and divisive issue that the ACLU has
faced, "The emotions stirred by this issue are so unparalleled," said
Strossen, a professor at the New York University Law School. "We have
handled many controversial issues like affirmative action, but
nothing comes close to this."
Strossen, along with attorney Anthony Griffin of Galveston, outlined
the ACLU's plans in the case, which will be presented to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Griffin represents the ACLU in the case in which two
mothers, one Catholic and one Mormon acting for their children, are
challenging the Santa Fe Independent School District's allowing
student-led prayers at football games and other public events. The
lawsuit started when the two families objected to what they called a
"pattern of majority religious practice" that had infiltrated the
schools, and was isolating members of minority religions.
The Supreme Court will decide only on the issue of whether
"student-led, student-initiated prayers at football games" violate
the U.S. Constitution. Griffin maintains that sometimes even allowing
students to choose the prayer still tramples on individual rights, If
you can use majority votes of students to take away the First
Amendment right to freedom from having the government impose majority
religions on people, the First Amendment doesn't mean anything,"
But the court's decision will only focus on one aspect of the whole
school prayer issue, which is being fought in schools throughout the
country. The Associated Press makes clear that this war is a highly
emotional and divisive. In recent years, religious activists have
gone on the offensive, asserting that prayer is a free speech right,
instead of fighting charges that it violates the constitution's ban
on "establishment of religion." And these activists have made
significant headway with these arguments. Some recent Supreme Court
and Appeals Court decisions have sided with the religious right,
allowing prayers at graduation ceremonies and in other instances.
And many communities simply do what they want anyway, ignoring Court
decisions. Adams County, Ohio displays the Ten Commandments on school
property in open defiance of Supreme Court rulings. Other localities
are simply ignorant of the law -- or prefer not to think about it.
This even extends in some cases to permitted activities. For example,
some school administrators don't permit after-school religious clubs
on school property, even though they are permitted by the courts.
They feel it is simply too difficult to sort out the rulings, so they
decide, "When in doubt, keep it out."
For LDS Church members, the issue conflicts with LDS Church teachings
to involve prayer in all aspects of life. Siding with conservatives,
most LDS Church members would prefer to see prayer allowed in schools
to some extent. In one recent court case from Rexburg, Idaho, which
involved a majority LDS population, the school district won the right
to have prayers at school graduations. However, the Mormon family it
Texas (presumably LDS), found it necessary to work against school
prayer because the environment at the public school had become so
hostile. According to documents in the case, one of the Mormon
children involved was told in class before classmates that her
religion was of the devil.
While this case may not change the minds of most LDS Church members
about prayer in schools, it at least points out a difference in the
position of LDS Church members that don't live where the Church is in