Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe
School prayer, even that led by students rather than required by administrators, is unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its decision on Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe in 2000. The Court determined that such religious offerings violated the Establishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment.
Two mothers of students at Texas’ Santa Fe School District near the Gulf Coast filed suit alleging that the local public school district promoted the Baptist religion over others, including allowing a religious group to distribute Bibles in schools. They sought to prevent a prayer to be officially offered during the graduation ceremony.
Before the U.S. District Court, the parents complained that the school had circulated a petition for those who supported prayer in school, prompting the judge to issue a strongly-worded prohibition against anyone trying to discern the names of the plaintiffs from the petition. School officials had also circulated a ballot among students asking if there was support for a prayer at graduation.
The district court judge ruled that the school district should eliminate all denominational prayer (lead by or mentioning a specific religious faith group or set of tenets) from school. His decision was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals which added that all religious prayers in school or football games were unconstitutional but that a prayer or invocation at graduation was an extraordinary event and therefore allowed.
On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the authority on constitutionality, the case of Lee v. Wiseman was referenced. In that 1992 verdict, a Rhode Island school district was essentially subject of the same complaint about religion playing a part in a school graduation. In this case the plaintiff also won in their efforts to prevent a religious prayer at a graduation because it was considered coercion despite students not being required to attend.