No student-led prayer at football games, says Supreme Court

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men," said Jesus at Matthew 6. "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." The Supreme Court yesterday also commanded those who pray to do so where no one can hear, but for very different reasons. According to Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the 6-3 majority opinion, even when prayer is initiated and led by students, and even when attendance is voluntary, praying over the loudspeaker at a high-school football game "has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship." The pro-prayer argument that such student prayer is a form of free speech rang hollow in the court's ears: "Contrary to the district's repeated assertions that it has adopted a 'hands-off' approach to the pregame invocation, the realities of the situation plainly reveal that its policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion." Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the dissenting opinion, which Justices Scalia and Thomas joined. Stevens's majority decision "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life," Rehnquist wrote. "Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of 'public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.'" The decision (available in HTML at Findlaw or as a PDF document at the court's official site) makes the front pages of the major newspapers. The New York Times gives a detailed rundown of the ruling and dissent, and leaves comment for the last few paragraphs. Julie Underwood, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, tells the paper, "This decision emphasizes that we don't have prayer at school sponsored events, period." The Los Angeles Times takes a very political tack, comparing Stevens's decision with the brief George W. Bush filed supporting the pregame invocations. The effect is to make it seem like Bush was one of the major players in the school prayer case. For the record, he wasn't. The Times also slantily notes, "The decision halts a movement by Christian legal activists to convert the school prayer issue into one of free speech for students." But when it comes to Christian legal activists, The Washington Post has the best quotes. Gary Bauer tells the paper that the decision "proves that a majority of the court is at war with the religious tradition of America." The American Center for Law and Justice's Jay Alan Sekulow calls the ruling censorship. Overall, the Post focuses on the wider implications of the ruling on school prayer. "The case extended the court's previous prohibition against clergy-led prayers at school graduation ceremonies to student-led prayers at athletic and, presumably, other official school events—at least in cases where the student is chosen in a school-sponsored election," write Edward Walsh and Bill Miller. "The ruling left intact the freedom of students to pray on their own in school, before a meal and at other times. Groups of students also can meet for worship on school grounds, as long as other student clubs are treated similarly. But the ruling is likely to lead to new challenges to school district policies that allow 'moments of silence'" USA Today is, as always, short and to the point, but notes that the decision is the "strongest rejection of prayer in public schools in nearly a decade." Similarly, The Freedom Forum notes, "The decision marked a turning point in the Supreme Court's 40-year struggle to draw the line between church and state in the public school setting. After sending signals that it was ready to allow greater religious involvement in schools, the conservative court on Monday tacked back toward a more separationist approach."

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Court also nixes evolution disclaimer

In other Supreme Court news, the justices voted 6-3 to refuse to review a school policy on teaching evolution. In 1994, the Tangipahoa Parish [Louisiana] school board required teachers, when teaching evolution, to tell students they were doing so "to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept." The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the disclaimer removed because it promoted religion. The Supreme Court allows that decision to stand.

Presbyterian leader James Montgomery Boice dies at 61

The Senior Minister of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church died of a liver cancer, diagnosed only eight weeks ago. He also served as president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy from 1977 to 1988. Tenth Presbyterian Church has more information, including a RealAudio version of his last sermon, at the church's Web site.

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Now that pope's shooter is out of Italian prison, we'll probably never know why

Mehmet Ali Agca has given far too many near-answers and not enough real answers about why he shot Pope John Paul II in 1981. Was it a Communist plot? A strike for Kurdish nationalism? Homicidal mania? An irresistible movement of God's will? The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs, who has spent months investigating the possible reasons, suggests as an "informed hunch" that Agca's act was motivated by the far-right terrorist organization the Gray Wolves. It's as good as any. But in The Dallas Morning News, Richard John Neuhaus notes that Why did he shoot? "is hardly the most important question raised. The Catholic writer says the pardon "inevitably raises the question of the status of punishment in Catholic thought. Many Catholics and others who greatly admire this pope are not, or not yet, convinced by his position on capital punishment."

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