Texas School Board Can’t Open Meetings with Prayer, AHLC Tells Fifth Circuit


For Immediate Release

Contact:

Patrick Hudson, Communications Assistant, 202-238-9088, phudson@americanhumanist.org

Monica Miller, Senior Counsel, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, mmiller@americanhumanist.org

(New Orleans, LA, Feb. 7, 2017)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center presented oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana, today to defend its lawsuit challenging the Birdville Independent School District in Haltom City, Texas, and its school board members, who unconstitutionally invited students to lead prayers at school board meetings.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a complaint against the school district in May 2015 on behalf of Isaiah Smith, an alumnus of the school district, who reported that its school board meetings regularly opened with prayers. The prayers are often delivered by elementary and middle school students to an audience comprised of other students, teachers, administrators, and community members assembled at the school board’s behest. After a district court upheld the school district’s prayer practice on the ground that the prayers qualify for the unique exception to the Establishment Clause carved out exclusively for legislative prayer, the American Humanist Association appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that prayers at public school events violate the Establishment Clause,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, who gave the oral arguments. “Prayers at school board meetings are even more problematic than prayers at football games and graduation ceremonies, as the setting is more formal, the power imbalance between school officials and the students is even more pronounced, and the school board’s active participation in the prayers makes them even more unequivocally school-endorsed.”

Miller continued, “The Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway upheld the narrow exception for legislative prayer but emphasized that the exception is inapplicable to prayer in public schools because students are far more susceptible to religious coercion.”

The oral arguments took place at 9:00 am this morning, at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the En Banc Courtroom. The courthouse is located at 100 Derbigny St, Gretna, Louisiana, 70053.

The original complaint filed by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center can be viewed here. More information about its appeal to the Fifth Circuit can be found here.

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

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