Rehnquist on School Prayer & School Vouchers:

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002

In a 5-4 opinion, Rehnquist wrote that Ohio's school voucher program did not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment (which prohibits the establishment or preference of a national religion). The program gave payment vouchers to parents for private school tuition. Eighty-two percent of the schools participating had some sort of religious affiliation, and 96 percent of the students involved attended religious schools. Rehnquist argued that this was due to the choice of the families involved, not a decision by the government:

"The Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice."

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 2000

In a significant blow to supporters of school prayer, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas public schools are not permitted to begin football games with organized prayer, even when recited by a student speaker.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist strongly dissented, arguing that the court's decision distorted the meaning of the establishment clause. Rehnquist pointed out that George Washington himself had proclaimed a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined Rehnquist in his dissent, arguing that the majority opinion "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life."

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