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Students Defy Court Ban Of School Prayer At Football Games
August 31 1999 4:43 P.M. EDT
Texas football-prayer supporters defy court ban
By The Associated Press

HOUSTON As school boards across Texas struggle with a federal ruling outlawing prayers before high school football games, some students are taking things into their own hands.

In Stephenville, a group of 15 students led an unauthorized prayer on Aug. 27 over a portable address system smuggled into the high school stadium. Fans gathered for a game against Weatherford stood and bowed their heads.

"This was not about football, it was about God," student Alan Ward told the Stephenville Empire-Tribune. "We decided to pray for God."

Superintendent Larry Butler said the students did not have the district's permission and he does not believe the school district, located 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth, could be held liable for a spontaneous act.

"With that being said, I applaud them for doing something that they feel really strongly about," he said. "I think the entire community of Stephenville believes in school prayer."

In Andrews, 20 miles northwest of Odessa, trustees have decided to continue student-led prayer at football games at least until a lawsuit is filed.

"If somebody says, 'Hey, you're violating my rights,' then I guess we'll have to stop," Andrews superintedent Pete Francis told the Odessa American. "It is the feeling of our community that the community wants it."

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that limited student-initiated prayer is appropriate at commencements but not at less-solemn, informal events such as football games.

Widespread defiance of the court's ruling suggests that the issue could become a "flashpoint" in the larger debate over separation of church and state, legal analysts say.

"The average American doesn't follow what the courts are saying about things. It doesn't seem very relevant to what most of us do during our day-to-day lives," said Teresa Collett, a South Texas College of Law professor and an expert on church-state relations.

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