WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today let stand a decision banning organized prayers at the start of high school football games.
The court, without comment, refused to review a ruling in a Georgia case that such pregame invocations impermissibly promote religion.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote Jan. 3, said prayers carried over the public address system before Douglas County, Ga., High School home football games had to stop.
Separation of Church, State
In a ruling affecting all public schools in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, the appeals court said the organized prayers violated the separation of church and state required by past Supreme Court decisions.
But lawyers for the Douglas County school board told the justices that pregame prayers have become "as much a part of the tradition of high school football as the national anthem, marching bands, cheerleaders and baton twirlers."
The school board's lawyers noted that the Rev. Billy Graham delivered a prayer and benediction at President Bush's inauguration in January and that each Supreme Court session begins with an invocation for divine assistance: "God save the United States and this honorable court."
The appeal acted on today argued that the Douglas County football invocations should be reinstated on the same "traditional" grounds used by the justices when in 1983 they upheld the practice of opening state legislative sessions with prayers.
The 11th Circuit court rejected that argument. Noting that although state legislatures have conducted prayer sessions for more than 200 years, the appeals court said, "Invocations at school-sponsored football games were nonexistent when the Constitution was adopted."
In another case today, the justices barred divorced spouses of military veterans from sharing in retirement pay the veterans have converted into disability benefits.
In a 7-2 ruling in a California case, the justices said a 1982 federal law does not permit state court divorce decrees to divide the disability benefits.
Justice Thurgood Marshall, writing for the court, said, "We realize that reading the statute literally may inflict economic harm on many former spouses. But we decline to misread the statute in order to reach a sympathetic result when such a reading requires us to do violence to the plain language of the statute and ignore much of the legislative history."
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in a dissenting opinion, said, "The harsh reality of this holding is that former spouses . . . can, without their consent, be denied a fair share of their ex-spouse's military pension simply because he elects to increase his after-tax income by converting a portion of that pension into disability benefits."
In other action today, the Supreme Court:
--Refused to lift strict advertising limits imposed on a Texas counseling center that authorities called a "fake abortion clinic" run by anti-abortion activists. The justices, without comment, let stand rulings that ads run by the Problem Pregnancy Center in Ft. Worth violated a state law banning deceptive trade practices.
--Set aside a $157,500 award won by the mother of a Los Angeles County man who committed suicide in jail.
The justices, by a 7-2 vote, told a federal appeals court to restudy its ruling that the inmate's rights were violated because he was not given adequate psychiatric care.
--Refused to reinstate the conviction of a California man, Stephen Edward Leichty, who admitted he tried to illegally ship a drug via air freight. Without comment, the court left intact a ruling that police unlawfully searched the shipment without a court-issued search warrant.