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Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Court decision met with disappointment

Associated Press

SANTA FE, Texas -- The Supreme Court has spoken, but that doesn't necessarily mean there won't be any prayers anymore before football games at Santa Fe High.

In a 6-3 ruling Monday, the court barred school officials in this Houston suburb of 10,000 from letting students lead stadium crowds in prayer before games.

However, school board member Robin Clayton warned that the mostly Baptist district cannot control what students or others say on their own.

"Spontaneous things happen, don't they?" Clayton said at a news conference.

The high court said the school improperly sponsored religion by allowing the student body to elect someone to give an invocation before football games.

School board members said they do not yet know what kind of rules will be adopted in place of the old ones.

"We got a very disappointing, disturbing and disillusioning answer from the Supreme Court this morning," said John Couch II, president of the Santa Fe school system for the past two years.

This spring, the invocation was delivered by Marian Ward, daughter of the Rev. Bob Ward, a Southern Baptist minister. She was attending a church camp and unavailable for comment Monday, he said.

During Marian Ward's speech, graduate Amanda Bruce sat in silent protest. She said Monday she believes the school district will find a way to work prayer into football games in spite of the Supreme Court.

"Every self-righteous person around here wants" prayer, said Bruce, a Catholic.

The lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court decision was filed by two women -- one Catholic and one Mormon -- whose identities were sealed by the courts. Both still have children in the district and were elated by the decision, said friend Debbie Mason.

"Thank God, thank God," said Mason, a Baptist who has put four children through the district. "This time it was football games, next it could have been the classroom. It is a slippery slope. This school district knew what it was doing and kept pushing and pushing."

Three of the seven board members attended the news conference at the school administration building.

Asked about recent allegations that a Jewish middle school student was harassed, they denied that there is any climate of exclusion in the district, which is predominantly white, Hispanic and Christian.

Superintendent Richard Ownby noted that the middle school has taken field trips to Holocaust Museum Houston, and that "The Diary of Anne Frank" is part of the curriculum.

At his business across the street from the news conference, Kenneth Jacob was disappointed by the high court's ruling.

"You walk down the school hallway any day and you'll hear the Lord's name taken in vain, but you can't pray," Jacob said. "When you take God out of anything, you put the devil in his place."