Texas Governor Flouts School Prayer Ruling

The governor of Texas has decided not to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on school prayer, saying he disagrees with it and doesn't understand it.

Gov. Rick Perry defended on Monday his decision to pray with Palestine middle school students as part of a patriotic event in spite of the High Court's ban on organized prayer at public school events.

"Last year, the court ruled against the Santa Fe Independent School District in southeast Texas, deciding that organized prayers before high school football games were unconstitutional.

"I fundamentally disagree with that," Perry said, referring to the Santa Fe school ruling.

Noting that government entities such as Congress and the Texas Legislature start sessions with prayer, Perry said he didn't see why it's not allowed in school.

"I don't understand the logic of that," Perry said.

Perry also said that before the program, he didn't think about whether what he was about to do was legal or not — which brought him to the conclusion that it is time for the rules on the separation of church and state to be clarified.

Students are allowed by law to pray individually in school, but organized prayer was the issue before the Supreme Court.

Perry, a Republican, has said he wants to make prayer in school a campaign issue in the 2002 election.

Tony Sanchez and John WorldPeace, his Democratic opponents for governor, also said they support some form of school prayer.

Sanchez believes "there should be a place for spiritual expression in our public life and that children should not have to leave their family faith at the door of the schoolhouse," said his spokeswoman, Michelle Kucera.

However, organized school prayer can pose problems because of the nation's diversity of religious beliefs, Kucera said.

"There is some danger in children feeling uncomfortable if it's not their religion of choice," she said. Kucera declined to say whether the Palestine event was appropriate.

"The people who attended the event, they would know how they felt about it," she said.

The Texas Education Agency said the Palestine middle school event could pose a legal problem because students were required to attend the assembly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.