A federal appeals court said on Monday a Texas school board may open its meetings with student-led prayers without violating the U.S. Constitution.
In a 3-0 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by the American Humanist Association, which said the practice by the Birdville Independent School District violated the First Amendment's prohibition of a government establishment of religion.
The appeals court also reversed a lower court judge's denial of "qualified immunity" to school board members and dismissed the case against them. Birdville serves Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Monica Miller, a lawyer for AHA and Isaiah Smith, a 2014 Birdville High School graduate who challenged the prayers, said they were reviewing their options, including asking the entire New Orleans-based appeals court to review the case.
The Birdville school district, in a statement, called the decision a "complete vindication."
Birdville's school board has since 1997 let students, typically in elementary or middle school, open meetings with statements that AHA said were usually prayers, often referring to Jesus Christ and asking audience members to pray. Board members often stand and bow their heads during the invocations.
Writing for the appeals court, Circuit Judge Jerry Smith said the matter involved legislative prayer, because a school board was "more like a legislature" than a classroom.
He also said the U.S. Supreme Court's 2014 decision letting the town of Greece in upstate New York start board meetings with prayer supported the Birdville school board's practice.
"Most attendees at school-board meetings, including Smith, are mature adults," and even board members' "polite" requests that the audience stand during invocations "do not coerce prayer," Smith wrote.
The judge added that while two other federal appeals courts reached the opposite conclusion in similar cases, their decisions predated the Greece case and students, unlike in Birdville, had formal roles in board proceedings.
Smith was appointed to the bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan, while panel members Edith Brown Clement and Leslie Southwick were appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
"The decision is reassuring because these trustees are elected and serve without compensation, and the possibility that they might be personally liable for damages would be somewhat daunting," D. Craig Wood, a lawyer for the defendants, said in an interview.
The case is American Humanist Association et al v Birdville Independent School District et al, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 15-11067, 16-11220.
© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.
To contact us or to submit an article, click here.
Get Charisma's best content delivered right to your inbox! Never miss a big news story again. Click here to subscribe to the Charisma News newsletter.
Five ways to deepen your relationship with God, increase your faith and save money!
- Deepen Your Relationship with God with a FREE eCourse: Click Here to view all of our free e-Courses. Favorite topics include Fear, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Supernatural, and How to Hear God.
- Super Discounts and Close-Out Specials: Click Here to view all our bundles and close-out specials and save up to 86%! Prayer, Holy Spirit, Anointing, the Supernatural and more.
- God Wants to Anoint Women Now: Rise up and enter the anointing of Deborah, Anna, Esther, Ruth and Hannah. You were called to go higher. Click Here to learn more.
- Change Your Atmosphere and Circumstances Through Prayer! John Eckhardt's prayer bundle gives you six powerful books to help you pray and change any situation. Click Here.
- HUGE Bible Sale!: Click Here to save up to 50% off a great selection of Bibles. Plus, get a free gift with each order!
Attention Pastors and Leaders: Leadership training and development are crucial for success. Enroll in a FREE 1-hour leadership mini-course by Dr. Mark Rutland. View Details