Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000) – Part Two: If She Weighs The Same As A Duck…

She's a witch!

{History makes it clear that} religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together… 

James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston (July 10, 1822)

In Part One I introduced the basics of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), in which the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for schools to open football games with prayer over the stadium loudspeakers – even if students “voted” on it. 

I suggested that the stories behind this decision were worth exploring in support of that whole “wall of separation” thing. Part Three will be about the damage done to faith when it becomes entangled with secular authority; this post is about how monolithic belief treats dissent

I want to be clear that I do not consider this a feature of Christianity in particular. It’s always dangerous when the powers of the state at any level allow themselves to become entangled in spiritual matters – particularly on the side of the majority. Religious beliefs often involve revealed truths (i.e., supernatural definitions of reality) and divine judgment based on those truths – with their own standards for right and wrong. Secular law utilizes human definitions of the collective good, and seeks to protect individual rights. 

These two realms often overlap – which is fine. Sometimes they become mixed – which is not. 

It’s not a problem with Christians so much as a problem with humans and power. And since most Christians are also humans… 

You get the idea. 

"If somebody gets offended by somebody praying, they just shouldn't listen," says Santa Fe barber Tommie Weaver, holding buzzing electric clippers and standing atop tufts of straw-like hair shorn from a sunburned boy. "The government is trying to take the Lord out of our hearts and minds, and it's going to be the downfall of this country," says Weaver. "The devil is getting too much say here."

The Salt Lake Tribune (June 3, 2000)    

Santa Fe, Texas, is a flavor of Baptist hard to fathom for those outside the Bible Belt. As recently as the 1990s, the Gideons distributed Bibles at school. Teachers invited students to revival meetings and taught them religious songs. And – most sacred of all – there was collective public prayer before football games.

For any of you reading from outside God’s Country, football holds a place in the South second only to church – sometimes higher. Basketball can be played without invoking the divine, as can baseball, volleyball, or any of the other lesser sports. Marching band, speech and debate, theater – even vocal music all survive without regimented invocation. 

But football… that’s different. You can’t play unless you pray. And if you won’t pray, you’re in the wrong town. Maybe the wrong country. So bow your head, dammit – or someone’s gonna get hurt.

The Drumhead Trial {Edit}


For more than two years, classmates of {13-year-old Phil Nevelow}, an eighth-grader, have made him feel like a hated minority.

The bullying reached a climax last month when Phil… was set upon by three teenagers on a school bus; they called him "a dirty Jew" and threatened to hang him.

The prospect of a hanging is what caused authorities to arrest the three teenagers the next day. It's anybody's guess when authorities would have gotten around to doing anything about the slurs. Phil's parents said he has been on the receiving end of repeated antisemitic harassment since the seventh grade--and their complaints to Santa Fe school administrators have gone nowhere.

When kids surrounded Phil on the playground and made the "Heil Hitler" sign, the school system did nothing. When swastikas were scrawled on book covers in front of him, school officials looked the other way. And when he was taunted with: "Hitler missed one! No more Jews! Hitler missed one! He should have gotten you!" his complaints were greeted with official inaction…

Of the system's poor response, Santa Fe Superintendent Richard Ownby said, "I'm not sure our communications have been real good here."  

The Washington Post (June 24th, 2000)  

Yeah, they were kids. But such specific and virulent ideology doesn’t evolve naturally by 7th grade. It’s imprinted by the culture in which they’re raised. Besides, it wasn’t just the kids…

{T}he problem faced by the Mormon and Catholic families… included outright harassment of their children, simply because they weren't part of the dominant church. 

When one of the children in the Mormon family questioned a teacher's promotion of a revival, the teacher asked the student what religion she belonged to. When told that the child was Mormon, the teacher launched into an attack on Mormonism, calling it a "non-Christian cult," saying it was of the devil, and telling the child that she was going to hell. 

The court also heard 'uncontradicted' evidence that students who declined to accept Bibles or objected to prayers and religious observances in school were verbally harassed.

Mormons Today (June 23, 2000)  

I'm Spartacus (Ext. Length)

This mindset may not be typical of people of faith, but it IS what drives the politics of religious aggression. You may serve a Christ who blessed the meek while single-handedly conquering Death and Hell, but that hardly requires my cooperation. Folks clinging to public rituals serve a Messiah who cannot survive without state-mandated obeisance. It makes them desperate, and angry. 

You want the freedom to serve your God; they want the state to pressure everyone else to do the same. Salvation via mob rule, lest Jesus somehow fade away like Tinkerbell when not enough people clap.

Such a mindset is always lamentable, but it’s only dangerous when it infiltrates enough secular authority to implement its bidding. It makes little difference whether that authority is federal, state – or a local school district. 

Danielle Mason was eleven years old when she was first accused of not being a good Christian… Most Sundays, the Mason sisters attended the biggest and oldest church in town, the First Baptist Church of Alta Loma…

Danielle wore a thin silver cross around her neck and sometimes drew pictures of the apostles, carefully copied out of her candy-pink illustrated Bible. At night she would wind up her white music box with the pink trim and listen to its cheerful tune, “Jesus Loves Me,” as she drifted off to sleep.

According to Danielle, the week before Easter during her fifth-grade year, she gathered her belongings from her locker at the end of the school day and headed for the door. Several neatly dressed Gideons had set up a table nearby, and one of them approached her, proffering a Bible. She thanked him but declined the offer. Undeterred, the man pressed it into her hands. “God wants you to have this,” he said. “Jesus wants you to know him.”

“No, thank you,” she said. “I have a Bible at home.”

Other students in the hallway with the new red Bibles tucked under their arms stopped and stared. Again, the man offered her one.

“I don’t want it,” she said.

The students gathered closer. “Do you worship Satan?” one child asked. “Are you in a cult?” asked another. Danielle stared back at them, mute. Then the words came in a torrent of shrill voices. Devil worshiper. Atheist. God hater.

Texas Monthly, November 2000

"Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?"

It hadn’t always been like that in Santa Fe, Texas. As we’ll look at in Part Three, Santa Fe had been a place “where people were strong in their faith but not in their judgments.” 

That changed in the 1990s when self-described "Christian Conservatives" began getting involved in local politics and declaring the Word of God superior to the laws of men – which may be true, but which they distorted into a Highlander-flavored dichotomy: “There Can Be Only One.” Either God’s law (as interpreted by themselves) must supplant man’s, or man’s law has thwarted God’s.  

That’s like arguing you can either work from home all evening or bring your kids to work with you all day – that one realm must conquer the other. Yes, you’re a parent even while you’re at work; sometimes you may even miss work to take care of your kids. You might periodically catch up on work from home. Neither indicates some sort of irresponsible or sinful compromise on your part – just that you understand the difference between the two roles. 

Unlike, say, locals at a heated school board meeting…

When a Catholic mother took issue with school prayer, a woman behind her called out, “Catholics aren’t Christians anyway.” During a recess, a woman approached Debbie to inquire what religion she was. “A school board member leaned over and said, ‘Don’t worry. She’s Baptist—she’s one of us,’” Debbie recalled. “And I thought, what does ‘one of us’ mean?”

Texas Monthly, November 2000

There were, of course, ways of finding out who was “one of us.”

The lawsuit had been filed anonymously due to fear of retribution towards the kids and families involved. Petitions began circulating in the community seeking support for these football prayers; anyone refusing to sign was suspected of being one of "them" – anti-Christian and anti-community. Those under suspicion were publicly shunned, some were threatened. You learned to be careful what you said, how you said it, and to whom. 

School officials circulated a similar petition among students to see who would sign and who wouldn’t, so they could identify trouble-makers. Youth pastors quizzed their teens about who they thought was behind the lawsuit – insisting they needed to know in order to ‘pray for them’.

In Santa Fe, “us” meant conservative, it meant white, it meant football, and it meant Baptist. Some of those things are easy to identify, and to screen out those who don't "fit in." Other types of "them" are obvious enough once you highlight their heresy - Mormons, Jews, even Catholics generally own up to their faith once under a little pressure. 

When it comes to those within the faith, however, dissent can be trickier to isolate, and to cull from the true believers. 

Which takes us into Part Three...

Picard Speech - Drumhead (S4E21) OmU


RELATED POST: Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000), Part One: Overview

RELATED POST: Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000) – Part Three: A Little Leaven Leaveneth The Whole Lump

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