Football returned to Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas, but the tradition of pre-game prayer did not.
Two months after the U.S. Supreme Court banned high schools from amplifying school-sanctioned pre-game prayer, a court-defying effort by protesters to recite “The Lord’s Prayer” fell short of expected numbers Friday night.
An estimated 200 of the crowd of 4,500 broke into prayer at Santa Fe High School, the school that spawned the June 19 decision from the high court.
Thousands of people had expected to recite the prayer at the home opener between Santa Fe and neighboring rival Hitchcock as part of an organized No Pray No Play movement.
“It would have been an awesome experience to be in the stands and to be able to hear you know that many people saying ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’” said Becky Frye, mother of a Santa Fe player. “And I think it’s a shame that it didn’t get to happen.”
Prayer Falls Short of Prediction
The tool that shut down the effort, prayer fans said, was the school-owned public address system the Supreme Court said could not be used to broadcast a prayer.
When the appointed moment to pray arrived, the Santa Fe faithful were slapped a double insult: the announcer broke right into his introduction of the visiting team.
“It was obvious that the announcer jumped right in after the anthem, and then it was too late to do anything,” said Frye. “If people could have appointed a leader for every section, we could have overcome the speaker.”
Poor planning was also a problem, others said.
“People didn’t get it together,” said Sheila Briscoe, another Santa Fe team booster.
Nonetheless, the group who planned the synchronized pre-game prayer declared the event a success.
“We weren’t trying to get everybody on the same line,” said No Pray No Play spokesman David Newsome. “We didn’t come here and say we were going to orchestrate this thing one-two-three like they’re doing out there on the field with the band.”
No Pray No Play, from Temple, led a statewide movement which had mixed success around Texas.
A large majority of fans, some of whom wore No Pray No Play shirts, were from the area. Six people with No Pray No Play traveled hundreds of miles from Temple to Santa Fe, and about two dozen others walked about 10 miles from Hitchcock. Two of them hauled wooden crosses.
Prayer Movements Abound
Elsewhere in the United States, others were leading similar prayer movements in recent weeks.
East of Texas, Terry Schultz was among those who led prayers at high school football games in several states. Shultz is a member of the Reformation Presbyterian Church, in Hendersonville, N.C., and he says the Supreme Court declared war on America with its decision.
“I think it’s that kind of determined effort on the part of the judiciary in America to perform a religious lobotomy upon America that is really of the most concern to the average family man, trying to raise kids to give them hope,” Schultz said.
“We are just blue-collar, white-collar, working folks who are very concerned what we’ve seen since the ’60s and since prayer was taken out of school,” he continued. “We saw test scores plummet and they’ve never gotten back. We’ve seen teenage suicide go out of reach, all the addictions and the problems, the Columbine tragedy.”
He says he sees prayer as a healing force on these social ills
Prayer at Other Games
Etowah County High School in Attalla, Ala., opened its season Thursday night with a student-led prayer over the loudspeaker. Head football coach Raymond Farmer said the prayer was not in defiance of the Supreme Court order and was recited because “we think that’s what we should do.”
Farmer says prayer is as much a part of playing football in Etowah County as putting on pads.
In the West Texas town of Merkel, a large portion of about 250 fans bowed their heads and removed their hats before the kickoff of Friday’s game against Bangs. And before the Merkel team exited the field house, about 35 parents briefly gathered in a prayer circle on the track, holding hands for an invocation asking to God watch over the players.
Meanwhile, Tyler’s Robert E. Lee High School chose an alternative demonstration of faith. The school’s Red Raider Band played a Christian chorus during a planned moment of silence following the national anthem.
Friday’s recitations paled in comparison to other pre-game expressions of faith at football games around the country since the high court’s ruling.
In Hattiesburg, Miss., 4,500 stood to pray before a game last week. In Asheville, N.C., 25,000 people gathered at a football stadium for a rally sponsored by a group urging the recitation of “The Lord’s Prayer” at football games.
Details of the Case
In June, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that amplified, student-led prayer approved by public school officials crossed the line in the separation of church and state.
The Santa Fe Independent School District was the defendant in the case. After the ruling, it ended its tradition of pre-game prayer.
Advocates said the prayer was meant to be a testament to their right of free speech. Even their former adversaries in court agreed.
“The simple act of any group deciding they want to voice any opinion, that’s speech we fight 100 percent of the time to protect,” said Martin Mayne, president of the Houston chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
ABC Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.