A 17-year-old girl walked to a microphone to thunderous applause and offered a prayer before her high school's season-opening football game tonight, hours after winning a court order allowing her to do so.
The crowd cheered Marian Lynn Ward as she was accompanied by the Santa Fe High School principal to the announcer's booth, then stood and cheered for a minute and a half after she asked for God's blessings.
Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Richard Ownby had warned that any student who violates an appeals court ruling banning pregame prayers would be disciplined.
But hours before the game, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of Houston issued a temporary restraining order barring the school district from punishing Ward if she led the prayer.
Lake's ruling said the school guidelines "clearly prefer atheism over any religious faith."
Elected by her classmates to deliver inspirational remarks, the Baptist minister's daughter made references to a deity and other things that school officials had said may not be done.
"Since a very good judge that was using a lot of wisdom this afternoon ruled that I have freedom of speech tonight, I'm going to take it," she began, to renewed applause.
She asked God to keep the players safe, and prayed that players and fans alike would show good sportsmanship and that God would bless the evening.
Her voice cracked as she said: "God, thank you for this evening. Thank you for all the prayers that were lifted up this week for me. I pray that you'll bless each and every person here tonight."
Her father, Bob Ward, who is the pastor of Santa Fe Baptist Church, said, "I feel very proud of her. I'm pleased with her character and her conviction."
Lawyer Kelly Coghlan, representing the teenager, filed suit against the district southeast of Houston late Thursday.
Coghlan said that although Ward had not indicated she would pray, he believed the superintendent's threat of discipline violated her constitutional right to speak freely.
"I do not want a government that tells students they must pray," Coghlan said. "But I do not want a government either that stifles genuinely student-initiated prayer."