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Can students mix prayer and football?

A Supreme Court case heard today could change the rules governing school prayer.

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A court battle over student-led prayer at football games in Texas could rewrite the rules governing prayer in public schools across America.

In a case that involves competing provisions of the First Amendment, the US Supreme Court today considers whether students are permitted under the Constitution to lead a public prayer before high school football games.

Opponents of the prayer policy at Sante Fe High School in Texas say it violates the separation of church and state by promoting religion rather than merely accommodating it.

Supporters of the policy, including Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumed Republican nominee, counter that students have a free-speech right to lead prayers at games without having to face government censorship.

The case touches some of the most fundamental issues confronting the nation.

On one side are those who believe that prayer in public schools might help inject a greater dose of morality into public education and, by extension, into American life. They say the country has a long history of public prayer, including a reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

On the other side are those who feel that prayer is an individual, private matter rather than a subject for public-policy debates. The best way to maintain the purity and power of prayer, they say, is to scrupulously avoid any government interference in such a personal area.

Frequently the issue is portrayed as a debate between people of faith and atheists backed by civil libertarians. But many religious minorities, whose beliefs are sometimes held up to ridicule by society in general, are concerned that greater government endorsement of public prayer could further erode their standing by promoting the dangerous concept of majoritarian worship.

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