In one of its most far-reaching decisions on church-state relations in over a decade, the Supreme Court’s decision to disallow the student-led prayers before football games is being interpreted as a major victory for holding to strict separationism.
For several years, the “accomodationist” position of allowing more cooperation between organized religion and the state seemed to be gaining ground in high court rulings. But the Texas decision, as understood by both its supporters and its critics, is clearly a return to the strict separationism of the l970s concerning school prayers and biblical readings.
Across the nation, the leading media interpreters such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, as reported on Christianityonline.com pointed out the timing of the decision was a reaffirmation of the more traditional position that prayers should be the personal choice of individuals, removed from multi-religious audiences, and freed of any suggestion of coercion of non-participants. On the other hand, conservative media commentators argued with Chief Justice William Rehnquist that the decision “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”
Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council argued that the decision “proves a majority of the court is at war with the religious tradition of America.” The American Center for Law and Justice called the decision “censorship.” The Freedom Forum offered the conclusion that church/state relations in 2000 are now back to where they had been at least forty years ago. All commentators agreed the Court would not likely take up another case of this far-reaching magnitude in the near future.
— By RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad