In cases involving state participation in a religious activity, one of the relevant questions is whether an objective observer, acquainted with the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute, would perceive it as a state endorsement of prayer in public schools.
Respondent students brought an action against petitioner school district alleging violation of the Establishment Clause of U.S. Const. amend. I (Establishment Clause) for petitioner's policy of student led prayer prior to school football games. The trial court enjoined petitioner from implementing the policy as it stood, but permitted a modified policy. The appellate court affirmed, with modifications, holding that both policies violated the Establishment Clause. Petitioner petitioned for a writ of certiorari, claiming its policy did not violate the Establishment Clause because the football game messages were private student speech, not public speech. The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court’s judgment.
Did petitioner school district’s policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violate the Establishment Clause of U.S. Const. amend. I.?
Petitioner school district’s policies violated the Establishment Clause because the football game messages were public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events, and because the realities of petitioner's policy involved both perceived and actual government endorsement of the delivery of prayer at important school events.