The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has enjoined a school board from complying with its official policy that calls for a prayer to open the school board meeting. This issue is now nicely teed up for Supreme Court review. Just last year our 5th Circuit gave its approval to the practices of Birdville ISD. In Birdville, a student made an opening presentation which, more often than not, was a prayer. The 5th Circuit held that school board meetings are more like legislative sessions than they are high school football games. While that may seem like a strange comparison, it’s based on prior SCOTUS rulings. The High Court was OK with prayers at a legislative session or a city council meeting, but not with a high school football game. What’s the big difference? The presence of young people.
And that’s what was crucial in the 9th Circuit case. The court pointed out that students, some as young as second grade, were often at school board meetings to either perform or be recognized. Moreover, a high school student served as an active member of the board. As the court noted, concerns over the Establishment Clause (more familiarly known as the principle of church-state separation) are particularly acute when young, impressionable minds are exposed to government officials endorsing a particular religious view.
So it continues. We may see a case on this issue decided by the Supreme Court. We now have three circuits that have shot down school board prayer (3rd, 6th and 9th) while the 5th was OK with it, at least as they did it in Birdville. That kind of disagreement among the Circuit Courts is usually the basis for a decision by our highest court. So stay tuned.
This one is Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Chino Valley USD, decided by the 9th Circuit on July 25, 2018. We found it at 896 F.3d 1132.
DAWG BONE: SOMETHING TO KEEP THOSE NINE JUSTICES BUSY…
Tomorrow: if the student has dyslexia is she automatically eligible for special education?