This started because a student elected as Santa Fe High School's student council chaplain delivered a prayer, described as overtly Christian, over the public address system before each home varsity football game. A Mormon and a Christian family filed suit challenging this practice and others under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
While the suit was pending, the District adopted a new policy, which permitted student-initiated and student-led prayer at all the home games and authorized two student elections, the first to determine whether "invocations" should be delivered at games, and the second to select the spokesperson to deliver them.
After the students approved the inclusion of prayers at the game, a federal district court ruled that only nonsectarian and non converting prayers could be delivered. But, he Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that any football prayer was unconstitutional, as a violation of the establishment clause.
The school board contended that control of the pregame message was left to students who also chose the speaker and the content of the message by a majority vote. Because the school board said that the prayer qualified as “private speech” and was protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise clauses. They also argued that because the football games were completely voluntary, there was no issue of mandatory attendance of students to attend and be subjected to the prayer.
The court said "that the delivery of such a message—over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer—is not properly characterized as “private” speech." They also stated that students are obligated to attend football games, even to earn credit in classes such as athletics, band, and other extracurricular activities.
Does the Santa Fe Independent School District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause.