By Dalia Sussman
June 19 Public support for school prayer extends beyond the classroom: Most
Americans also say students should be able to lead prayers at after-school activities,
such as sporting events.
The Supreme Court ruled today that
student-led prayers before football games at a Texas public school violates the separation
of church and state.
But two-thirds of Americans surveyed for an ABCNEWS.com poll in
March took the opposite view, siding with the school districts contention that
student-led prayer is a matter of free speech. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said
students should be permitted to use the PA system to lead the audience in prayer at public
school activities, such as sporting events. Fewer than three in 10 opposed it.
Permit students to lead
prayers at after-school events
That result is in line with polls on other aspects of school
prayer. Last summer, for instance, Gallup found 70 percent support for daily prayer
to be spoken in the classroom.
The high court ruling is the first major school-prayer case
to be heard by the Supreme Court since it ruled in 1992 that clergy-led prayers at
graduation ceremonies are unconstitutional.
Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush are at odds on the issue. Bush has
backed his states school district in support of student-led prayer. Gore opposes
student-led prayer, but supports what he terms voluntary prayer, such as a moment of
silence for students to pray as they wish.
While theres a gap between Republicans and others in the
poll, majorities in all political groups support student-led prayer eight in 10
Republicans, compared to about six in 10 Democrats and independents.
Support student-led school
There are some other differences among groups. Lower-income and less-educated Americans
are more apt to support student-led school prayer, so are Southerners and Midwesterners.
Again, though, its supported by majorities in all groups.
This ABCNEWS.com survey was conducted by telephone March 22-26, 2000, among a random
national sample of 1,011 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Field work
by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.