Students Can Pray and Still Play Says Church-State Expert

Sept. 2, 1999

WACO, Texas -- Public school administrators should remind students that they can pray together before football games, if they choose to do so, and not be in violation of the law, says a Baylor University professor who is an expert in church-state law. "The court's ruling does not prevent groups of students, including football players, from praying privately before a game on their own initiative," said Dr. Derek Davis, director of Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.

Davis says a decision rendered by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, that is binding on Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, held the traditional practice of most school districts to permit student representatives to lead a prayer before football games over a loud speaker is an unlawful government advancement of religion. "Most school districts are complying with the ruling by dispensing with pre-game prayers over the loud speaker, but some districts have said they will continue the practice until someone sues," Davis said.

Davis points out that while the court's decision is controversial, it was motivated by a spirit of fairness given the growing diversity of religions represented in public schools.

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